Before we know it, the summer semester will be here and with it the opportunity for students at Misericordia to take summer courses online. Naturally, those taking an online course for the first time have questions. In the Center for Adult and Continuing Education, the question most often asked – “Is an online class anything like a traditional class?”
Well, just like a traditional class, an online class provides ways for students to explore course topics and exchange ideas with each other as well as their instructor. One way this interaction is created is through online discussion boards. Here, the instructor may pose one or more questions to which students not only respond, but also comment on the responses of others. So, it’s a lot like when an instructor gets a good discussion going in the traditional classroom.
But what makes for a good online discussion? According to Tom Sweetz, an instructor in MU’s Business Department who teaches both online and face-to-face classes, it’s quality not quantity that counts. In other words, a thoughtful, well-written 250-word post carries more weight than a lengthy, rambling 750-word post. Mr. Sweetz also encourages students to think outside the box and look beyond the questions posed. In addition, he says students should ask questions and not be afraid to disagree with the ideas of others as long as they can support their reasons for doing so.
The following tips can also help you get the most out of your online class discussions.
- Frequency: Most online courses require more than one discussion board post each week and often require that you respond to your classmates’ posts. Be sure to check your course syllabus to determine the required number of posts each week and their due dates.
- Deadlines: Instructors typically provide deadlines for initial and follow-up posts to keep the conversation current and relevant. Think of it this way; if you miss a face-to-face class, you miss out on the discussion that took place during that class. It cannot be “made-up” the next time you come to class because the conversation has progressed to a new topic. The same applies to discussion boards.
- Initial Post: Each week, you’re given the opportunity to make a first impression with your initial post. This post also sets the tone for the conversation that follows. Your first post, and all subsequent posts, should be well thought-out, researched, and organized. Don’t forget to address the specific objectives of the assignment and incorporate course content in your post.
- Follow-Up Posts: These posts are your opportunity to elaborate on your classmates’ posts. It’s your chance to bring to light new ideas or examine a topic from a different perspective. Brief “I agree” or “Good point” responses do nothing to further or enhance the conversation. Stating “why” you agree/disagree or “what” makes it a good point is essential.
- References & Support: The statements you make in your posts are validated by references to your text, as well as additional sources such as scholarly, business, and other journals, research conducted on the subject, books, expert opinions, and even your own professional and personal experiences. And don’t forget to give credit where credit is due by citing your sources.
- Mechanics: Unlike the traditional classroom where you have just one chance to voice your response, with online learning you can write, re-write, edit, and proof your posts until you get them just right. The result is a clear, concise, and organized post free of spelling and grammatical errors.
- Etiquette: In addition to proper spelling and grammar, proper language and cordiality are essential to a good discussion board post. Avoid Internet slang. Standard spelling (i.e., you, not u; are, not r) is expected. And while it’s okay to disagree, keep it professional and courteous; personal attacks and inappropriate language are unacceptable.
Please remember that these are tips to help make the most out of your online discussions, but always refer to the discussion board guidelines set forth by your instructor.
For more information on online summer classes at Misericordia, contact the Office of Summer Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Johnna Evans, M.S. '15 is the Expressway Student Services Coordinator for the Center for Adult and Continuing Education at Misericordia University. She also serves as the advisor to the Adult Student Council.