Face-to-Face or Online Discussions: Are They Really So Different?

Presented by: Madeline Craig

Discussion is a primary tool used in face-to-face, blended and online classrooms. No other tool, besides lecture, is as prevalent in higher education today. Faculty use discussions for many reasons including the learning of course content, encouraging higher order thinking skills, assessing student knowledge, and supporting course learning objectives. Others use discussion to meet that critical need of providing student-to-instructor and student-to-student engagement in the face-to-face, blended and online classrooms. But, what are the key differences in using discussions in these three types of classrooms? How can we better use the techniques from their use in one setting, say an online course, to conduct a more effective discussion in another, say a face-to-face classroom? What does the literature and research say on this topic and how can we all better integrate these pedagogical learnings into our varied and diverse classrooms?

By the end of the conference presentation, participants will be able to:

• Make better decisions about using either face-to-face discussions, online discussions or a combination of both in a blended class

• Recognize and appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle differences and similarities between face-to-face and online discussions

• Use best practice discussion techniques from face-to-face in their online classrooms and vice versa

• Practice creating links between their learning objectives and the use of discussions in the classroom, online or both.

This content is important because more and more faculty are using asynchronous discussions as the crux of their online or blended class. They are relying on discussion to teach content, have students think more critically, assess mastery of concepts, apply learned concepts to the real world, and provide the critical engagement needed for a successful online course – student-to-student and student-to-instructor contact. Many faculty do this without prior knowledge of the pedagogical decisions that should be made in choosing discussion as a teaching tool.

During my presentation, I plan to engage my audience in discussion about discussion. What has been their experiences, both successes and challenges in using discussion in both settings: face-to-face and online? I plan to ask the audience to consider when and why they are currently using discussion and particularly how these discussions are or are not directly linked to learning objectives. I plan to create with the audience a top ten list of their best advice for online discussions and a top ten list of their best advice for face-to-face discussions. Together we will explore the similarities and differences and challenge each other to a sort of mixed-mode approach to discussions in general.

Keywords: assessment, blended learning, learner-centered


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