Interactive, Asynchronous On-line Discussions

A guest post by Nance S. Wilson, State University of New York at Cortland

This post describes how teachers can engage students in interactive, asynchronous on-line discussions. These discussions not only play an important role in online and hybrid classes; but are critical to assuring active participation by students. On-line discussions can also enhance students’ academic performance (Althaus, 1997), and promote higher-order thinking and critical thinking skills when discussion activities are properly designed (Larkin-Hein, 2001).

However, assuring that asynchronous discussions are truly interactive is a difficult proposition as students are often concerned with their grades and completing their assignments. Sun and Gao (2016) identified issues with the traditional threaded discussion forums because “the chronological and hierarchical structure fails to show the interrelationships of postings or the importance of threads, which may prevent effective discussions from happening” (p. 73).

Therefore, the instructor must use a variety of tools to design the discussion in a manner that compels students to interact with each other (Maddox, 2012; Wood & Bliss, 2016).

My research has revealed two important tools for this structuring in an online course. The first tool is the design of the discussion itself.  The second is the application utilized to facilitate the discussion.  This is true whether the asynchronous discussion occurs in a hybrid or completely on-line setting. The lessons reported in this post are from an on-line disciplinary literacy class with graduate and undergraduate students.

Interactive, asynchronous discussions should be designed around giving students multiple opportunities to collaborate around a single text and/or topic.  In my study of the on-line literacy class, students were asked to complete a series of activities around a textbook (Kane, 2011). For instance, when reading Chapter 3, students were given the following directions:

This is a collaborative reading activity. That means that you will work with your collaborative reading group in OneNote. You will also keep personal notes in your Collaborative Reading Personal Notes Journal. 

Go to Chapter 3 of the Kane textbook. 

Skim the chapter. 

Create three of your own questions to guide your reading of the chapter. (Note: In an earlier module students were introduced to Bloom’s Taxonomy and what makes a good question.)

Using OneNote, visit the Collaborative Reading Group. Share all of your questions with your small group by midnight September 29th.  You should also share the following with your group:  

  • Think about how you interact with your textbooks. Do you always read assignments? Why, or why not?
  • Do your teachers actually show you how best to read and use your textbooks?
  • Is it necessary to read the textbooks in order to do well in the classes?
  • Do your teachers know when a significant percentage of students don’t read the assigned material? If so, what is their reaction? Do they do anything about it, or try to find out why the text wasn’t read? Are there consequences?
  • What will you do if your students don’t read the textbook assignments you give? (Kane, 2011, p. 58)

Note/Mark the questions in the group collaboration space that you believe will help you comprehend the chapter and tell your group mates why. This happens asynchronously.

The discussion leader will use what you say about the questions to determine 3 to 5 questions you will answer beyond the guiding questions presented below. This needs to be completed by midnight September 30th.

Read the chapter individually. As you read, find the answers to your questions, answer the question below, and take notes in your Collaborative Reading Personal Notes Journal create a new journal entry and make sure that you include your responses to the questions from your group citing specific information from the reading and looking for ideas to use in your future classroom as well as personal notes to help develop your understanding of the chapter.

Also, answer the following question: 

Imagine that you are being interviewed for a teaching job in your content area. The search committee, consisting of a principal, a curriculum coordinator, and several teachers, informs you that the school you hope to work in has a policy of using no textbooks! They ask you to surmise what the philosophy underlying this decision might be and ask you what kinds of materials you would use and how you would teach under these circumstances. Write in your Journal, thinking through how you might envision your job and answer your interviewers (Kane, 2011, p. 85). 

After reading go back to your group collaboration page (OneNote) for the readings and share three things with your group:   

  1.  any problems you had with any of the questions
  2. a response to one question created by your group (not previously answered in the collaboration section by a member of your group)
  3. something from the reading that you can use in your future classroom or that you wish you had in school or that made you think about reading in your discipline.  

After sharing with your group, respond to at least one group member regarding their after-reading posts.

Notice that the directions encourage students to engage in multiple discussion opportunities with their peers. The first begins around a pre-reading of the chapter.  During reading, the students are working independently in a traditional BlackBoard journal (see figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Excerpt from a BlackBoard Journal

After reading, students return to their group to share their thoughts and talk asynchronously.  The back and forth of the actual assignment around the reading models both the interactive reading process and requires that students share with one another their reading process. It is important that students share their thinking processes because this helps to develop their metacognitive thinking about the content as well as the reading process (Paris & Winograd, 1990, Garrison, 2003; Akyol, & Garrison, 2011). Thus, the design of the discussion facilitates the students as they engage in interactive conversations and helps to build thinking and learning in an on-line environment (Wood & Bliss, 2016).

The second tool, Microsoft OneNote, was chosen because it offers students opportunities to move beyond the vertical written asynchronous discussion.  In order to facilitate the discussion, the instructor divides the students into small groups and then sets up a notebook for each small group of students.  In OneNote student notebooks, there can be pages and subpages to differentiate between sections.  For instance, each module can have a page.  Then within the module page students can set up sub-pages for before, during and after reading tasks to be completed with the group.  On each page, students post into text boxes.  They can place their text boxes vertically and horizontally (See Figures 2 & 3).  Students can also insert audio comments (See Figure 3).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Overview of a OneNote Notebook

Figure 3

Figure 3: Close up of OneNote Conversation

Thus, using OneNote as a tool changes the nature of the discussion from “prompt to response” to “prompt to response to response:” to “student created questions to response to a student to student conversation.” By changing the format of the conversation from a purely print-based vertical format students are able to have asynchronous conversations on-line that more closely mirror a live discussion.  The discussion can be viewed with or without viewing the names of the participants.  The figure above is an example of how OneNote works with students’ creation of questions.

The figures are an overview of an extended conversation.  Figure 1 demonstrates students posting their initial pre-reading questions on the left while different group members discuss the questions to the right.  As the respond to each other’s posts, they indent or move their statements or questions further to the right.  The bottom left of figure 1 is a synthesis of the discussion by the discussion leader.

Figure 2 is also a look into a pre-reading discussion around questions.  You will notice how students identify questions that they like to the right of the questions posted.  Please will also notice that there are two audio posts.  The audio posts have student’s thoughts on the questions.  The content is similar to the post the written responses.  In both figures, you will notice that as students work to finalize their questions for reading they are discussing why they believe different questions will support them during reading with each student going back and forth at least two times before the leader uses the thoughts to develop final questions.

The figures of the discussions are just a glimpse of how careful design of both the discussion opportunity and the thoughtful selection of the tool can create a non-linear asynchronous discussion that supports students to develop a careful reading of the assigned text while engaging in a discussion that is interactive and multimodal.

Microsoft OneNote offers a way to build student engagement and involvement without some of the pitfalls of traditional on-line discussions threads. Since the discussions are not limited by chronological and/or hierarchical structure, students are able to think through their responses while providing a structure that promotes connecting ideas thus avoiding one of the negative issues of threaded discussions, inefficiency in promoting interactive dialogues due to structure (Thomas, 2002).  The move away from traditional threaded discussions allows students to post in a structure that follows more of a natural progression, such as one that would occur in a face-to-face class.

References

Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(3), 183-190.

Althaus, S. L. (1997). Computer-mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment with online discussions. Communication Education, 46, 158–174.

Garrison, D. R. (2003). Cognitive presence for effective asynchronous online learning: The role of reflective inquiry, self-direction and metacognition. Elements of quality online education: Practice and direction, 4, 47-58.

Kane, S. (2011). Literacy & Learning in the Content Areas, 3rd Ed. Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway.

Larkin-Hein, T. (2001). On-line discussions: A key to enhancing student motivation and understanding? 31st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, NV. http://fie.engrng.pitt.edu/fie2001/papers/1121.pdf.

Maddix, M. (2012). Generating and facilitating effective online learning through discussion. Christian Education Journal 9(2), 372-385.

Paris, S. G., & Winograd, P. (1990). How metacognition can promote academic learning and instruction. Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction, 1, 15-51.

Sun, Y. & Gao, F. (2016) Comparing the use of a social annotation tool and a threaded discussion forum to support online discussions. Internet and Higher Education, 32, 72–79.

Thomas, M. J. W. (2002). Learning within incoherent structures: The space of online discussion forums. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, 351–366.

Wood, K. & Bliss, K. (2016). Facilitating successful online discussions. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 16, (2), 76-92

About the Blogger:

Nance Wilson

Nance Wilson

Nance S. Wilson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Chair of the Literacy Department, and Coordinator of Jewish Studies at SUNY Cortland. She can be reached at nance.wilson@cortland.edu

Infographic: Humanizing the Online Class

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Many posts on Literacy Beat relate to visual literacies in digital environments, and this week I wanted to share with you an infographic (thanks to our LiteracyBeat friend, Peggy Semingson) that describes ways to humanize the online class or course. Email and threaded discussion communications can seem cold and dry at times. But teaching is an art of the heart and soul as much as it is about the stuff of any content.  I think you are going to like this infographic! Also, be sure to check out the presentation mode to break down the elements of the infographic. The presentation mode can be activated in the top, right of your browser.

Humanize

PiktoChart – Click to open the infographic.

Peggy Semingson added: “Infographic was created by Michelle Pacanksy-Brock at Cal State Univ., Channel Islands (Instructional Designer). Her blog/website is here: http://www.teachingwithoutwalls.com/. I actually also came across her interactive syllabus example in the Online Learning Consortium class on The Interactive Syllabus.” Read more from teachingwithoutwalls here

Read more on Literacy Beat about Infographics.

The Whole-Class Great Debate: A Discussion Strategy for English Language Learners

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey & Dana L. Grisham

A rule of thumb we have come to find helpful in any language learning environment is that the more one uses a language, the more likely it will be that proficiency develops in that language. Of course, effective instruction, useful models, and other resources are all important, as well.  A resource from the Common Core State Standards website suggests that English language learners, among other things, should have:

  • Opportunities for classroom discourse and interaction that are well-designed to enable ELLs to develop communicative strengths in language arts;

  • Ongoing assessment and feedback to guide learning (p. 2).

Recently, we had the opportunity, as part of a delegation to meet with education leaders in China, to observe a class of middle school age students debate a topic as a way of integrating speaking, listening, and presentation tasks at Tiantong Education Group’s teaching center in Shenyang, China All of the students are English language learners.. The teacher called the process “debate” but we have modified this title a bit to differentiate it from other debate protocols to “Whole-class Great Debate.”

2014-10-14 17-39-10

The students had just returned to class after a national holiday, and, as you may be aware, China is grappling with pollution that causes health problems for many citizens (for example, read this news article about pollution in Beijing).  Students were asked to “state up their opinion” as to whether it was a good idea to stay home during the holiday or to go somewhere, such as the beach.

Students sat in rows, two on each side, facing each other. Initially, a student on each side states an opinion that staying home or going out for the holiday is their preferred option.  Each side then adopted one of the two stated positions.  They met in small groups to come up reasons in support of staying home or going away. Next, a student stated the opinion to which the other side responded. Students they returned to their group to determine counterarguments to those they heard. The process began again. A selected student (a volunteer in the class), then summarized the group’s position.

So far, this seems much like a typical classroom debate. However, to keep the students engaged in the discussions and to encourage them to listen to one another, the teacher developed protocols for speaking to the class. Students were encouraged to stand up and speak up taking turns from one side or the other. The spontaneous nature of standing and speaking motivated students to listen so they might speak. However, at times, more than one student from a side might want to speak. They learned to call “I’m, first” but sometimes it was hard to tell who was actually first. To keep everything moving and in control, students could use a version of “rock paper scissors” to decide who would actually speak first. Finally, each side met again to review their opinions and the counterarguments to their opinions, and a final summary speaker was elected.

ELLs at Tiantong Education Center

The teacher did choose a colleague to come in and evaluate the debate and select a winner based on a rubric for developing and stating an opinion, but it was clear that the debate’s main goal was interaction in English requiring students to listen carefully to each side, discuss their opinions and those of the other side, then speak publicly about it.  The teacher recognized the strengths of each team’s presentation. We hope you enjoy watching this video of the Whole-class Great Debate.

IAIE Representatives

Representatives from IAIE include Jin Zhang, Dana Grisham, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Marc Grisham.

Reference

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2012). Application of Common Core State Standards for English language learners [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/application-for-english-learners.pdf

Talking Drawings

by Rebekah Lonon with Karen Wood and Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This is the third in a three-part series exploring conversation and collaboration opportunities using digital tools. Rebekah Lonon describes how she uses “talking drawings” to promote academic discussions in her classes and explains how she uses the Educreations digital tool with her students.

My second-grade students enjoy using the talking drawings strategy regularly in all content areas. I always begin by having the class close their eyes and imagine a mental image of a word or concept. Once they open their eyes, they immediately draw the image they made in their minds. This gives me great insight into their prior knowledge of the topic, and it helps me tailor my instruction for the coming unit. I recently used this strategy to introduce a unit about properties of matter, and I learned that my students associated the word “matter” with something being wrong (“What’s the matter?”). I knew then how my unit needed to be planned.

When it is available for our use, I like to incorporate a digital tool. In this case, I used www.educreations.com because it provides an online venue for creating related drawings. Educreations is also available as an app for mobile devices. After their initial drawings, students independently read a passage, entitled “Why Does Matter Matter?” by Kelly Hashway (n.d.) from the website http://www.superteacherworksheets.com about the states of matter and then they discussed their drawings and thoughts with a partner. Next, they returned to Educreations to create a new drawing, based on their new knowledge. If technology is scarce, students can create their drawings in pairs or small groups, using paper with Crayons or markers. To reflect on what they learn and, as a means of integrating writing with the reading and drawing process, I always ask them to compare their original  and after reading drawing. In this instance, one partner group exclaimed aloud, “Matter DOES matter!” as they drew examples of each state of matter. Another partner group continued their reflection process as they wrote in their journals.  Seeing their developing knowledge when using this strategy is an effective assessment tool for me.

View the video to hear Rebekah explain talking drawings using Educreations.

Bibliography: 

Hashway, K. (n.d.). Why does matter matter? [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/matter/matter-article_WMTBN.pdf

McConnell, S. (1992/3). Talking drawings: A strategy for assisting learners. Journal of Reading, 36(4), 260-269.

Wolsey, T.D., Wood, K., & Lapp, D. (in press). Conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core: Strategies for learning together. IRA e-ssentials series: What’s New?Newark, DE :International Reading Association.

Wood, K. D., & Taylor, D. B. (2006). Literacy strategies across the subject areas. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

About the contributors:

Rebekah Lonon teaches 2nd-grade for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina

Karen Wood is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

 

Jigsaw and Graffiti Wall

by Lindsay Merritt with Karen Wood and Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This is the second in a three-part series exploring conversation and collaboration opportunities. Lindsay Merritt describes, in the post below, how she uses jigsaw and a graffiti wall to promote academic discussions in her classes.

Lindsay writes:

In my classroom, I use the jigsaw strategy to help my students “own” their work and their learning.  I started to use jigsaw (e.g., Aronson, 2000) because I found that often when I presented a lesson students looked at me blankly because they were overwhelmed by too much teacher talk, or my directions were not clear. When I began using the jigsaw process, students become the “experts” in their topics, and had the opportunity to share, discuss, and collaborate with their classmates.  My role became one of planning, monitoring, guiding instruction, and having the pleasure of seeing first-hand the “ah ha” moments of my students’ learning.

My class has been studying Africa through our social studies curriculum.  We are learning that Africa is not a country, but a continent made up of many different countries and cultures.  I could not think of a better way to share this information than through the jigsaw strategy. Students worked in five groups, one for each of the regions of Africa (east, south, north, west, and central).  Their job was to look through the informational text, Hands on Africa (Merrill, 2000) and become experts on their region’s culture, location, geography, and countries within.  As they worked I was able to hear them reading together, discussing, and then writing in-depth sentences focusing on these key areas.  Every student was engaged and participating. This process afforded me a perfect opportunity to continually assess their learning.

I then selected one student from each region to form a larger group to share their information.  Students made sure to present their information clearly so that their classmates could understand.  The students took their “expert” roles seriously and even started making connections among the regions. Once they finished sharing they went back to their home groups to create a visual display of their readings to put on the Africa graffiti wall.   When they wall display was ready, the students had five minutes to view the wall and write down any new information or connections they could make to the information we were learning in the unit.  I was thrilled to see my students so excited about the learning process and truly taking ownership for their learning.

In this video, Lindsay describes the jigsaw and graffiti wall approach:

Digital tools we have used to build on jigsaw and graffiti wall approaches include:

Voicethread

Padlet

Diigo 

Bibliography:

Aronson, E. (2000, May/June). Nobody left to hate. The Humanist, 60(3), 17-21.

Merrill, Y. Y. (2000). Hands on Africa: Art activities for all ages. Salt Lake City, UT: Kits Publishing.

Wolsey, T.D., Wood, K., & Lapp, D. (in press). Conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core: Strategies for learning together. IRA e-ssentials series: What’s New?Newark, DE :International Reading Association.

About the contributors:

Lindsay Merritt teaches 3rd-grade at Hope Academy in  Cabarrus County, North Carolina

Karen Wood is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

 

 

Exchange Compare Writing

By Jolene Graham with Karen Wood and Thomas DeVere Wolsey

The next three posts on LiteracyBeat explore possibilities for promoting discussion, often with technology embedded. Teachers have long known of the value of discussion in the classroom, but the Common Core State Standards also emphasize these skills in the anchor standards for collaboration and presentation. Please open the Common Core Standards that Address Conversation and Collaboration PDF to see these arrayed on a chart.

This week’s post was written by Jolene Graham describing the Exchange Compare Writing instructional approach which encourages students to have meaningful discussions. In the video, below, she describes how she uses digital technologies to enhance the activity. The strategy occurs in four steps.

Preparation Phase

  • Determine 6-8 significant terms to emphasize
  • Pre-assign students to heterogeneous groups of four or five.

Pre-reading Stage

  • Display, pronounce terms.
  • Groups use terms to compose a paragraph representing their predictions of the story they are about to read.  All terms must be used.
  • Teacher assists, circulates, and monitors participation.
  • Students polish compositions in peer-editing groups (Optional)
  • Groups share completed compositions orally.

Reading Stage

  • Students read passage focusing on significant terms.

Post-reading Stage

  • Students discuss terms as used in the selection.
  • Groups/class compose second passage reflecting selection content

Jolene describes a lesson that uses exchange compare writing:

I recently used exchange compare writing in my fourth-grade classroom as we read the book So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting (1998).  To prepare for my lesson I first read the book and chose key vocabulary that would help the children write a communal, predictive passage.  These preselected terms were reviewed as a class to solidify the meaning of each term. Terms were defined by providing a picture or by using the word in a sentence.  As a class we reviewed what was meant by working collaboratively, and we discussed the importance of both listening and speaking to other group members.  The students were divided into heterogeneous groups and invited to collaboratively write a paragraph that predicted what the story was going to be about.  I used this communal writing time to walk around the room and listen to suggestions, ask questions, and promote collaboration. It was a perfect way to assess the learning that was occurring.

After the groups wrote their collaborative predictions, we read the story, listening carefully for each of the key vocabulary words.  To make sure my students were actively listening I asked them to raise their hands when they heard one of the words we used in our predictive passage.  After the reading we discussed how our predictions compared with what actually happened in the story.  The students then were asked to go back into their same groups and collaboratively write a summary of the story, using the key terms correctly.

Below, you will see a list of vocabulary terms, one predicted response and one response after reading that student groups might create.

Key Concepts/Phrases:

So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting

Grave Manzanar War Relocation Center Japan
Guard towers Monument Boat
Neckerchief Silk flowers Attack
Barracks Cub Scout uniform Origami birds

Predicted passage (A passage the teacher wrote as a model for students using the terms selected, above).

Japan attacked America so we sent the Japanese-American people to the Manzanar War Relocation Center.  There were guard towers to make sure the people couldn’t leave and barracks for the people to sleep in.  The relocation center was far from the sea and if you looked really hard you could see boats.    People didn’t have a lot to do so they spent time making origami birds and silk flowers.  Some people died and a graveyard was made.  When the war was over I was so excited I decided to wear my scout uniform and neckerchief.  Today there is a monument there for all of the people who were sent to that camp. 

Student response after reading the passage

Laura and her family were traveling to Manzanar War Relocation Center to visit the grave of her grandfather.  This will be the last time they are visiting since they will be moving from California to Massachusetts.  Laura’s father tells what the camp used to look like with guard towers, barbed wire fences, barracks, a hospital, churches and a school.  All Japanese-Americans were sent to live there because Japan attacked the United States.  

Laura’s grandfather was a tuna fisherman.  He owned his own boat and loved the sea. When the Americans came to take them to the relocation camp, Laura’s father wore his Cub Scout uniform so the guards would know he was a true American.   

Laura’s family brought silk flowers to place at her grandfather’s grave.  There is a memorial to mark the graves of those who died in the camp.  People have left offerings such as rice cakes, origami birds, and bits of colored glass.  Laura brought her own neckerchief from her scout uniform to place as an offering because her grandfather was a “true American”.

As the groups shared it is again so obvious who has really comprehended and gained understanding of the initially identified terms. Like many collaborative strategies, communal writing provides wonderful opportunities to formatively assess your students.

Listen to Jolene describe how she uses Exchange Compare Writing using Google Docs:

Bibliography: 

Bunting, E. (1998). So far from the sea. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

Wood, K. D., Stover, K. & Taylor, D.B. (in press) Smuggling writing across grades K-5: Standards-based instruction for the 21st Century Classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wolsey, T.D., Wood, K., & Lapp, D. (in press). Conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core: Strategies for learning together. IRA e-ssentials series: What’s New? Newark, DE :International Reading Association.

About the contributors:

Jolene Graham teaches 4th-grade for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina

Karen Wood is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

 

Literacy Beat @ IRA (Monday)

At a roundtable in the Research Into Practice Series on Monday, Karen Wood, Diane Lapp, and DeVere presented some ideas about conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core State Standards. Find out more about the IRA e-ssentials series by pointing your browser here: http://www.reading.org/general/Publications/e-ssentials.aspx

If you would like a copy of our handout, please point your browser to https://app.box.com/CCCCSS

Watch and listen as teacher Jolene Graham discusses how she uses the exchange compare write strategy using TitanPad and other digital resources.

The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

Digital_Literacies

 

Emily Skinner and Margaret Hagood, JAAL Editors, featured three pieces from the Digital Literacies Virtual Issue at the IRA conference.  Melanine Hundley & Teri Holbrook presented Set in Stone or Set in Motion?: Multimodal and Digital Writing With Preservice English Teachers, Jill Castek & Rick Beach presented Using Apps to Support Disciplinary Literacy and Science Learning and Jessica K. Parker presented Critical Literacy and the Ethical Responsibilities of Student Media Production.  

International LITERACY Association 2015

We hope you will join us at IRA, soon to be ILA, next year in St. Louis, July 17 to 20, 2015.

#IRA2014

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