When students respond to each other, “I agree” or “You’re wrong” are not adequate answers. When prepping students for the assignment, teachers should remind students that if they were having a discussion with a friend, if everyone responded, “I agree!” to a statement that discussion wouldn’t last very long.
Every student response requires two parts:
• The student must say something in response that is distinctive enough for me to read in isolation from the discussion thread and still know what they are responding to, because my LMS shows me responses by student when I’m grading. For example, “I also went camping in the Rockies.”
• The student must bring in new information, disagree politely, or ask a question. “Did you know that the Rockies have an outbreak of Lyme disease?”
By responding to students every week, teachers model high-quality discussion responses. Teachers can also help struggling students by guiding their understanding of the topic at hand, correcting misconceptions, and just letting them know that teachers see them—they matter to someone. Demonstrating empathy and caring for students helps their course engagement and eventual success.
Success with online, written discussion forums requires intensive teacher participation—for the entire course, not just the first couple of weeks.