Intervention : Continuing the Seminar Discussion

Online Interventions 

When you only have a limited amount of face-to-face discussion time each week to engage students with complex topics, themes and ideas, it can be advantageous to facilitate students' ongoing discussion and reflection on what you are covering out of formal contact hours in class.

Online tools can ably facilitate such engagement by providing a means for students to post discursive messages into a shared space that can be read, and commented upon, by peers and teaching staff.

The VLE provides both Blog and Discussion Board tools and the Google platform provides further options with Google Communities, Blogger and Google Groups.

Accompanying this text you should see an embedded (50 seconds long) YouTube video that provides a walkthrough demonstrating the use of a discussion board to expand upon and link ongoing face-to-face activity.

This example is taken from 'Immunology and Infectious Diseases', a Department of Biology module developed by Dr Mark Coles. The module is and targeted at Year 2 Undergraduates (with a typical cohort size of circa 150 students). The primary goal of the discussion boards was to open up new communication channels with students and provide them with opportunities to follow up on lecture content. Discussion boards were preferred in this instance for their “democratic” approach to communication:

  • Address student anxieties about asking questions in face to face sessions and provide an alternative forum for students to check their understanding
  • Discussion boards are open to the entire cohort, allowing all students to benefit from answers given to an individual
  • Students have the opportunity to respond to each others’ questions

The discussion boards, in this example, were set-up to allow posting anonymously in order to better encourage use and so that students would be less afraid of 'exposing' themselves by asking simple questions.

If you can, it's worth providing at least a light-touch contribution approach to any ongoing discursive activity occurring between face-to-face activity. This might be in the form of encouraging comments or posts, constructively correcting misconceptions or seeding further dialogue with questions posed about the ongoing discussion topics, or summarising contributions and lessons learned when drawing the discussion activity to a close.

It's a good idea to draw on on-line activity during face-to-face sessions when possible and where relevant. This can reinforce to students that you do indeed read and engage with the online activity and can also help ensure that students understand how the online dialogue is relevant to their overall learning.

Make sure your students understand how to use the tool you have chosen to facilitate on-line discussion. You could do this via a short induction early on in your module or by providing help links on the web-page where the tool is located. The E-Learning Development Team provide student targeted digital guides (including video walk-throughs) that you can embed or link to for using tools like the VLE's Blog or Discussion Forum.

Useful Guides
Student Video Guide - Basics of using a Yorkshare Blog (note that Journals and Wikis work simiarly to Blogs in terms of making posts) Student Video Guide - Discussion Forums - Navigating and posting
Blogs - An Overview Blogs - Creating a Course-Wide Blog
Blogs - Posting and Editing Discussion Forums - Setting Up

Useful Tips

When using a forum consider switching on the Subscribe features. This allows both you and your students to receive posting activity to a forum via email if you or your students choose to subscribe. Subscription can be set up for Forum or Thread. When the subscription option for the forum has been set to 'forum' subscribing will result in you being emailed with any forum activity. When set to 'thread' you can select which threads you want to receive activity on by email. VLE blogs don't currently have a subscription feature.

When using the VLE's blog tool it's worth pointing out to students that they should use the tool's commenting feature (assuming you've left it switched on) to respond to other student's posts (rather than make a self-contained answering post).

If you expect students to be making quite lengthy posts then consider suggesting that they write these in an alternate application (say a Word document) or they at least copy their entry before submitting their post. All it takes is a blip in their connection for them to potentially lose text that they may have taken some time to compose.

Case Study Title Department
Student Engagement and Communication Through Discussion Boards Biology
Engaging students with reading between seminars (PDF) English and Related Literature