Engaging students for learning with online discussions

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    1. Introduction

    As theWeb becomes a pervasimany associate degree nursingbased courses or Web-enhanced

    often want individual feedback on discussion postings fromhumor expressions with online learning (Stodel, Thompson,& MacDonald, 2006), this approach is accepted and rapidlyincreasing. An initial benefit of online discussion accordingto Prestera and Moller (2001) is that students have more timeto consider their thoughts. Collins and Berge (2006) reportedother advantages of online conferencing such as convenience,

    1 The article was previously presented at the Conference on AppliedLearning in Higher Education, St. Joseph, MO (roundtable presentation,February 2008).

    Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 913 526 9527.E-mail address: sroehm@kumc.edu

    e Degree Nursing. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    Teaching and Learning in Nursing (2009) 4, 691557-3087/$ see front matter 2009 National Organization for Associatcontact in the online classroom makes it necessary to havevery clear guidelines and clearly stated student expectationsfor participation in online discussions. Because students

    2. Purposes and benefits of online discussion

    Although students sometimes note missing face-to-faceinteractions such as nonverbal communication and directimmediacy and verbal and nonverbal prompts, the context forfaculty and student discussions and questioning is changed.

    Challenges accompanying online discussions as opposedto classroom discussions can be quite different. Traditionalclassroom instructors are able to steer discussions based onverbal and nonverbal student cues. The lack of personal

    nursing education, discussion and Internet, facilitatingonline learning, and facilitating online discussions. Eighteenarticles meeting review criteria were critiqued. Articles wereprimarily a blend of descriptive evaluations and case reports.doi:10.1016/j.teln.2008.07.003ve tool in nursing education,programs are using Web-classroom learning oppor-nline discussions can beopportunities and promot-

    n critical thinking about aonline, missing classroom

    faculty participation or monitoring guides. Knowing goalsfor utilizing online discussions is another issue so thatdiscussions do not just become busywork for the students.

    What are the best practices in leading online discussions?The purpose of this project was to review the literature toidentify the best practice for facilitating online discussions.The method included review of five databases (Ovid-Medline, Ovid-Cinahl, Ovid-RMC Journals, Google Scho-lar, and ERIC) using terms including online discussion,tunities for selected content. Oimportant in extending classrooming student interaction and evetopic. When discussions moveinstructors, this may become cumbersome without clearEngaging students for learnin

    Stephanie Roehm BSN, RN, Wanda Bonn

    University of Kansas School of Nursing, Kansas City, KS 66

    Abstract Online discussionsstudents and promoting studenopposed to classroom discussiocurrent best practices in leadinclarifying the purpose of particlarifying faculty roles. 2009 National Organizationreserved.

    KEYWORDS:Online discussion;Web-enhanced learning;Web-enhanced teaching

    KEYWORDS:Online discussion;Web-enhanced learning;Web-enhanced teachingPhD, RN

    , USA

    e important in extending classroom learning opportunities forraction about a topic. Challenges of leading online discussions ase very different. This article presents a literature review describingline discussions. Sample implications for nurse educators includediscussions, providing clear student discussion expectations, and

    Associate Degree Nursing. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rightswith online discussions1


  • socialization in course design. Woods and Baker (2004)

    and interaction in online learning are also discussed (Woods

    student as discussion leader and facilitator. Student reflection,

    7Engaging students for learning with online discussionsdescribed interaction and immediacy as being intertwinedand emphasized the need for learning to take place in a socialcontext. Allan (2004) also reported that social interactionsare important to online learners. Prestera and Moller (2001)stated the importance of student interaction to studentlearning. Stodel et al. (2006) stated that students' feelingsof community are dependent on social relationships withpeers and professors.

    In traditional classrooms, Daroszewski, Kinswer, andLloyd (2004) suggested a two-tiered discussion format thatcombined online discussion with traditional classroom work.The purpose is to enhance active learning, encourage furtherdiscussions, increase comprehension of abstract concepts,and encourage critical thinking and social interactions. Usingtiered discussions may encourage students to continuereflection on work done in class, promoting academic andprofessional growth (Daroszewski et al., 2004).

    3. Frameworks for online learningand discussion

    Various frameworks for online learning and discussionexist. White (2004) discussed four frameworks for onlinefacilitation which include the following: understand theconcept of facilitation (online and in person), participate inplanning and building discussions, be involved in thegroup's discussion purpose, and have selected discussiontools and processes available. Moore's transactional distancetheory describes three types of interaction which are possiblein online discussions including learnercontent interaction,learnerinstructor interaction, and learnerlearner interac-tion (Woods & Baker, 2004).

    In addition, the seven principles for good educationalpractice in online learning (Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996)have relevance to facilitating online discussion. The sevenprinciples for good practice include providing multipleuse of guest experts, and interaction for students who aredistant from one another.

    Buckley, Beyna, and Brown (2005) echoed the benefits ofonline discussion, noting that a well-planned online discus-sion helps faculty members meet class objectives and engagestudents for collaborative learning. These authors alsodiscussed that online discussions are advantageous forquieter students and that they promote active learning.Hermann (2006) reported the encouragement and support ofcollaborative learning, active learning, higher order thinking,enhancement of writing skills, and socialization amongprofessionals as advantages to online learning. In addition,students who used online discussion for clinical postconfer-ence had deeper discussions, especially related to personalreflections and awareness (Hermann, 2006).

    Also related to online discussions, numerous studiesreported student social interaction as a key to studentsuccess. Bullen (1998) stressed the importance of includingwhich is important in discussion postings, is also reported asbeing a key to student development (Hermann, 2006).

    Students' learning styles likely influence students'preferences to various discussion approaches. A learningstyle inventory of online learner's results reported a highnumber of kinesthetic learners (Fearing & Riley, 2005).

    5. Faculty roles in discussion

    Heuer and King (2004) described faculty roles in onlinediscussion as multidimensional and similar to the complex-ities of leading a band. They outlined five overall expecta-tions of an online instructor as planner, model, coach,facilitator, and communicator. In this model, the coach showsencouragement and development of the team. The facilitatordemonstrates an understanding of reciprocal learningbetween the instructor and students, use of open-ended& Baker, 2004). Verbal immediacy is discussed with specificexamples including using questions, using humor, addres-sing students by name, sharing personal examples, andinitiating discussion. The constructivist framework is used inthe intertwining of interaction and immediacy (Woods &Baker, 2004).

    4. Student roles in discussions

    Bonnel (2008) noted that students have important roles inpromoting their own active learning in the online classroom.Although research is limited, recommended strategies forengaging students in online discussions exist. Assigningvarying discussion roles to students has been recommendedby some. Persell (2002) recommended discussions that werestructured by providing students with one of three rotatingroles each week, starters, responders, and integrators. Startersdiscussed what they learned from the reading and raisedquestions from the material. Responders responded to thosequestions and posted new questions. Integrators combinedand analyzed the readings and added additional questions.This study suggests that student interaction increased by theend of the semester. Although an interesting concept,instructor workload for this project was reported to be high.Stodel et al. (2006) also discussed the benefits of having ainteraction opportunities, giving timely feedback, designingcourses that emphasize higher level thinking activities,focusing on active learning tasks with student timecommitments, clearly defining high student expectations,and respecting diverse learners. Providing students withimportant course or assignment orientation information isadditionally noted. Halstead (2005) reported that bothstudent and faculty expectations for interaction play a keyfactor in online learning.

    Theoretical frameworks specifically related to immediacy

  • conflict, and providing clear instructions and technical

    (2004) to increase interaction included group projects,discussion as large component of grades, ongoing discussionabout complex issues, and varying levels of instructorinteraction throughout the course. Mandatory online intro-ductory classes (noncredit) may be helpful for students withlittle online course experience (Bullen, 1998).

    Bullen (1998) found that rapid instructor responses areimportant to students and suggested having one deadline forinitial student contributions and one deadline for a finishedproduct. Students describe the need for the faculty to providespecific assignment guidelines and timely and relevantfeedback from instructors (Fearing & Riley, 2005).

    7. Evaluation of discussions

    interaction exchange categories. In another evaluation ofonline learning, themes specific to student preference in

    8 S. Roehm, W. Bonnelsupport. VandeVusse and Hanson (2000) listed six categoriesof instructor roles from faculty members' comments whichinclude assisting course navigation, explaining expectations,defining and clarifying the role of the faculty, encouragingcritical thinking, providing encouragement, and sharingprofessional insights.

    Fostering interactivity and participation is also a key roleof the online instructor (Woods & Baker, 2004). Collins andBerge (2006) described the role of the instructor as one whomodels effective teaching, keeps discussions on track,contributes expertise and perspectives, synthesizes discus-sion threads with course components, and promotes groupaccord. Prestera and Moller (2001) highlighted roles of thefacilitator as guide, mentor, catalyst, coach, assessment giver,and resource provider.

    Discussion timing and pacing may have added relevancein online education (Bullen, 1998). Providing specific duedates and having regular discussions are helpful approaches.It has been suggested that the instructor as a guide shouldbecome less of an active participant as the course progresses(Prestera & Moller, 2001; Woods & Baker, 2004).

    6. Discussion facilitation strategies

    Selected strategies for facilitating discussions aredescribed by Prestera and Moller (2001) which includeencouraging reflection through discussion, promoting goal-based exploration, and developing the learning community.Buckley et al. (2005) discussed ways to facilitate onlinediscussion which include orientation outlining rules andprotocols, role modeling from the instructor, introductionfrom the instructor, a get-acquainted exercise with anonthreatening follow-up discussion, and addition ofreference links to comments. Seven applications weresuggested for online discussions including thought-provok-ing questions, investigative reporting, debates, role playing,reaction posting, case scenarios, and patient education(Buckley et al., 2005). Suggestions by Woods and Bakerquestions, flexibility throughout the course, and diplomacywithin the course. The communicator encourages studentparticipation, communicates prior to class beginning,responds, and provides feedback in a timely manner.

    Halstead (2005) stressed that faculty members need toprovide clear expectations and assignment guidelines tostudents, due dates need to be established concerningpostings, and faculty members need to model desireddiscussion behaviors. White (2004) described differenttypes of facilitator roles as the social host, the team orproject manager, the community of practice facilitator, thecybrarian, the referee, the janitor, and the cofacilitator.

    Pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical approachrecommendations to discussion are also noted (Berge, 2006).These recommendations include but are not limited to havingclear objectives, inviting experts, using praise, expectingTable 1 Important points for planning and implementingonline discussions

    Gain familiarity with the technology (orientations for both facultyand students).

    Consider the purpose of the course and the specific discussionassignment.

    Provide clear directions and expectations for students, includingparticipation frequency and discussion quality (rubrics).

    Encourage students to use data that support their opinions in responses.Allow students to challenge one another.Provide additional questions and correct inaccuracies.Role model professional text-based communication.Keep up with discussions and periodically summarize the discussion.

    Note. Data from Peterson et al. (2001).discussions included robustness of online dialogue, sponta-neity and improvisation, perceiving and being perceived byothers, and getting to know others (Stodel et al., 2006). TheEvent Centre concept is another possible tool for evaluation.With this concept, faculty members gain snapshots orexamples through the discussion forum that highlightsstudents' approaches to gaining meaning and advancingtheir knowledge (Allan, 2004).

    8. Faculty implications

    Peterson et al. (2001) described the following as steps indeveloping good online discussions: planning, setting thestage, writing discussion questions, guiding the discussion,troubleshooting, and evaluating. The evaluative study ofStodel et al. (2006) discussed what students felt was missingFaculty should evaluate not only what students learn interms of discussion outcomes but also quality perspectives ofthe discussion (Peterson, Hennig, Dow, & Sole, 2001).Spatariu and Bendixen (2004) did a comparison of differentmethods for evaluating quality in online discussions anddescribed methods such as knowledge frameworks and

  • from the online classroom. From these findings, recommen-dations for improvement in online classroom includedspecifying and managing expectations, assessing and under-standing learners' needs, teaching students to learn online,and exploring a variety of technologies to promote diverse

    often have a more parallel relationship than that found in thetraditional classroom. The instructor seems to be most

    Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 5(2).

    Retrieved May 15, 2007, from http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/teach_online.html.

    Bonnel, W. (2008). Improving feedback to students in online courses.Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(5), 290294.

    Bullen, M. (1998). Participation and critical thinking in online universitydistance education. Journal of Distance Education, 13(2). RetrievedMay 21, 2007, from http://cade.athabascau.ca/vol13./bullen.html.

    9Engaging students for learning with online discussionsBerge, Z. (2006, September). The role of the online instructor/facilitator.Modified from Berge, Z.L. (1995). Facilitating computer conferencing:Recommendations from the field. Educational Technology, 35(1), 2230.effective as a guide and facilitator rather than a traditionaldidactic lecturer. The need for student social interaction inonline education is a recurring theme throughout theliterature. Selected strategies for increasing interaction arenoted. This review of online discussion raises furtherquestions such as, When is discussion most appropriate tomeet learning objectives and what additional can be learnedfrom classroom discussion techniques? Further research isneeded on best practices for online discussions and learning.

    Online discussions play a central role in most onlineclassrooms and many Web-enhanced courses. These discus-sions keep faculty easily apprised of students' experiences;students gain opportunity to compare their experiences toothers; and students learn and gain ideas and resources fromeach other that may have relevance at their own appliedlearning sites. Clarifying the purpose of particular onlinediscussions and providing clear student discussion expecta-tions and faculty roles are beneficial. These many positivessuggest that well-facilitated online discussions have oppor-tunity to extend and enhance student learning opportunities.More research providing frameworks and models as bestpractices for online discussions is needed.


    Allan, M. (2004, August). A peek into the life on online learning discussionforums: Implications for Web-based distance learning. Internationalpurposes of the class. Table 1 provides suggested approachesfor faculty roles in online discussions.

    9. Discussion

    From the literature relating to online discussions, severalthemes emerged. Students and instructors in online learningBuckley, K. M., Beyna, B., & Dudley-Brown, S. (2005). Promoting activelearning through on-line discussion boards. Nurse Educator, 30(1),3236.

    Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996). Implementing the sevenprinciples: Technology as lever, American Association of HigherEducation Bulletin. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from http://www.aahebulletin.com/public/archive/ehrmann.asp.

    Collins, M., & Berge, Z. (2006). Facilitating interaction in computermediated online courses. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/flcc.html.

    Daroszewski, E. B., Kinswer, A. G., & Lloyd, S. L. (2004). Socratic methodand the Internet: Using tiered discussion to facilitate understanding in agraduate nursing theory course. Nurse Educator, 29(5), 189191.

    Fearing, A., & Riley, M. (2005). Graduate students' perception of onlineteaching and relationship to preferred learning styles. MEDSURGNursing, 14(6), 383389.

    Halstead, J. A. (2005). Chapter 9: Promoting critical thinking through onlinediscussion. Annual Review of Nursing Education, 3, 143165.

    Hermann, M. L. (2006). Technology and reflective practice: The use ofonline discussion to enhance postconference clinical learning. NurseEducator, 31(5), 190191.

    Heuer, B. P., & King, K. P. (2004, Summer). Leading the band: The role ofthe instructor in online learning for educators. International Review ofResearch in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1).

    Persell, C. (2002, November). Using focused Web-based discussions toenhance student engagement and deep understanding. Retrieved May14, 2007 from http://www.cites.uiuc.edu/edtech/teaching_methods/pedagogy/persell/persell_sociology_essay.htm.

    Peterson, J. Z., Hennig, L. M., Dow, K. H., & Sole, M. L. (2001). Designingand facilitating class discussion in an Internet class. Nurse Educator, 26(1), 2832.

    Prestera, G. E., & Moller, L. A. (2001, April). Facilitating asynchronousdistance learning. Exploiting opportunities for knowledge building inasynchronous distance learning environments. Paper presented at theMid-South Instructional Technology Conference MiddleTennessee StateUniversity.

    Spatariu, K. H., & Bendixen, L. D. (2004). Defining and measuring qualityin online discussions. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 2(4).

    Stodel, E. J., Thompson, T. L., & MacDonald, C. J. (2006). Learners'perspectives on what is missing from online learning: Interpretationsthrough the community of inquiry framework. International Review ofResearch in Open and Distance Learning, 7(3).

    VandeVusse, L., & Hanson, L. (2000). Evaluation of online coursediscussions: Faculty facilitation of active student learning. Computersin Nursing, 18(4), 181188.

    White, N. (2004). Facilitating and hosting a virtual community. RetrievedMay 14, 2007, from http://www.fullcirc.com/community/communityfa-cilitation.htm.

    Woods, R. H., & Baker, J. D. (2004). Interaction and immediacy in onlinelearning. International Review of Research in Open and DistanceLearning, 5(2).facets of communication. As the faculty, it is important to beprepared with online learning tools and processes that fit the

    Engaging students for learning with online discussionsIntroductionPurposes and benefits of online discussionFrameworks for online learning and discussionStudent roles in discussionsFaculty roles in discussionDiscussion facilitation strategiesEvaluation of discussionsFaculty implicationsDiscussionReferences