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Managing and Facilitating Online Discussions

As the manager/facilitator of an online discussion, your job is mainly to make sure the discussion is going in a fruitful direction, by teaching with the Socratic method.

  • Ask additional questions.
  • Play “Devil’s advocate” to challenge students’ thinking.
  • If necessary, direct students back to the task defined in the prompt.
  • Correct misconceptions, if possible through questions that help students to recognize the misconceptions and correct them themselves.
  • Model the desired level of discourse.
  • Summarize and synthesize parts of the conversation.

Make sure that students know that you are involved, but don’t stifle the discussion by:

  • posting too frequently
  • posting too soon
  • posting too authoritatively

Use the following tips to manage your time effectively:

  • Do not try to set aside a block of time during which you will read the discussion forum and post your replies. You’ll sit down to address this task and be greeted by dozens of unread messages–a sure-fire recipe for feeling overwhelmed. Also, setting aside a block of time works against the asynchronous nature of online discussions.
  • Budget small amounts of time throughout the week (or however long the discussion is slated for), dipping into the conversation briefly but frequently.
  • Consider grading as you go along, rather than waiting until the discussion has ended.
  • Stop reading when you’ve seen enough to accurately and fairly assess a particular student’s contribution to the discussion, or when you feel you’ve gleaned what you need from a particular post.