As an instructional designer and professor that has designed, developed, and taught both online and traditional face to face courses discussions are an important factor to building community. Learning through discussions is an important strategy for students, in either mode. Both types of discussion modes have their use, benefits, and best practices. It is our responsibility as educators, to decide which topics are better suited to an open classroom discussion and which are better suited to online discussions.
I have found that students enjoyed the speed, spark, and energy of traditional classroom discussions and that these types of discussions were more suited for activities such as brainstorming and visual demonstrations, and where the energy of a group could contribute to the success of a discussion. An important benefit to classroom discussions the ability to have rapid conversation in a short amount of time. This mode of discussion can benefit from the non-verbal communication and visual clues between students. Students need to be well prepared for classroom discussions, especially dealing with topics that require extensive prior knowledge to have a meaningful discussion. Classroom discussions could be limited to time, due to the factor that you only have a certain amount of time to run the discussion and might be limited in the number of students that can be active in the discussion. Students who are introverts might hold back in the discussion, while extroverted students might dominate the conversation, not letting introvert students process their thoughts. I have always used the analogy that in a classroom discussion you might have only three or four students respond to a classroom discussion between the entire class.
I have found that students enjoy the ability to spend more time reading, thinking and generating their own responses. This mode of discussions raised an appreciation for the idea/topic they were discussing, even though it could be very time consuming. Online discussions are typically more suited for topics that require additional time for reflection compared to traditional face-to-face discussions. Students who learn towards introverted behaviors will have additional time to reflect and respond at length to a discussion given additional time to develop their thoughts.
It’s important to design questions for online discussions that are clearly stated and understandable. Because of the delayed feature of asynchronous online discussion, students are less likely to get prompt responses from others. If the questions are unclear and the students cannot clarify immediately, the student’s progress will be impeded. I have used the opposite analogy that in a online discussion you the majority of students respond (raise their hand) and are required to respond to others. A best practice would be to utilize a rubric for grading that would include areas such as the number of original positing, the number of reply postings, expected substance to postings, and frequency/timing of postings. I have seen that it might be best to require postings to happen throughout the week and students would receive less points for posting all their original and replies on the same day.
The best aspect of having an hybrid course is to utilize the discussion in both modes to enhance each other. Starting a discussion in the classroom can serve to motivate students and provide excitement around a topic, thus promoting conversational modes of learning to occur. Continuing the discussion online can allow students time to reflect on a topic and to process other’s thoughts on the subject so that they may form well-articulated responses, thus promoting higher levels of critical thinking skills.
Resources/Studies on Online and Face-to-Face Discussions
Face-To-Face Versus Threaded Discussions: The Role of Time and Higher-Order Thinking – Dr. Katrina A. Meyer
Online Discussions and Perceived Learning – Dezhi Wu and Starr Roxanne Hiltz
Comparing Asynchronous Online Discussions and Face-to-Face Discussions in a Classroom Setting – Qiyun Wang and Huay Lit Woo