Monday, June 23, 2008

Developing Productive Online Discussions

Fascinating opinion piece posted at Campus Technology last week about grading conversations in the Web 2.0 world. The piece written by Trent Batson focuses on the academic world but has a lot to say to corporate training initiatives that seek to employ Web 2.0 tools.

Two items jumped out at me as I read the piece. Batson explains how a professor based all of his/her grades on student conversations in Blackboard.

The students' first impulse was to just write essays. However, these were not conversational turns, but performances, so they were graded very low. When the students instead started picking up on elements in the previous comment and including references to these elements in their own comments, their grades went up. If the students extended their discourse skills to synthesize several comments in their own comments, they got even higher grades.

He then cites four criterion for grading a written conversation:

  • Cohesion in which students need to show they are conversing with one another rather than just posting items to the message board/blog comments field/other conversation tool. This means repeating or restating elements of a previous post on which they are commenting, or at least referring to the post.
  • Awareness that because this is a conversation between all class members and not just between the commenter and the teacher. They need to be attempting to convince all to their point of view, not just the teacher.
  • The conversation must be directed to the purpose of the class, not just “social chit chat.” While the conversation does not have to be purely straight-laced, the social element must be related to the discussion points.
  • Finally, the diction employed must be academic in nature. Batson says “[a] discussion of an idea is not the same as the discussion of a party.”

As the corporate world starts to apply web 2.0 tools to their training environment it is essential that the individuals who will stand in place for the university professor be aware of these elements and maintain a watchful eye on online discussion boards. While grading may not be a factor, these elements offer clear guidance on how to maintain a productive online environment.

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