Schoology and Online Discussion

As Dr. Z posted a while back, we have been experimenting with Schoology. Overall I have to say I really like it.

This week I have been tweaking how I ask kids to respond in the discussion platform. I like Schoology’s platform, it makes it really easy for me to monitor the discussion and I can follow along without much extra effort. However, I run into the same problem that many others do, which is that the online discussion becomes

…over-cultivated factory farms, in which nothing unexpected or original is permitted to flourish. Students post because they have to, not because they enjoy doing so. And teachers respond (if they respond at all) because they too have become complacent to the bizarre rules that govern the forum.

So, a great description of what happens that we DON’T want to happen. The passage is from a post by a grad school colleague of mine (Jesse Stommel, who along with others, writes about pedagogy from the University perspective at I really liked how they continued the ‘farming’ metaphor:

With the right teacher and engaged students, discussion in the classroom includes carefully cultivated spontaneity, more akin to an organic garden. Online discussion forums require the same careful attention and engagement, the same understanding of when to train and prune and when to allow things to take their own course, flourish in their own way, on their own time. And in order for that to happen, the technology must make room for that spontaneity.

‘Organinc garden’ is exactly what we are hoping for, in class and out. And I really like the ‘cultivation’ part of the metaphor.

As I play with the Schoology platform, I find that it has made it easier for me to ‘cultivate’ this particular garden.

The social media style ‘like’ button is a useful way for me to respond quickly, and the threaded discussion format allows me to jump in at any point in the conversation. Because it is easy, I find my self doing so more regularly.

I also made a change to my students instructions for discussion posts. They always have a prompt, and some reading, to which they are required to respond. And while their responses are sometime insightful, they do often have the perfunctory tone described above.

This week, in addition to reading and them posting, I required them to also respond to a colleague’s post. Suddenly there was an explosion of dialogue. People responded in unexpected ways, and as the conversation developed, new posts were clearly informed by the earlier conversation, instead of existing in their own hermetically sealed (manufactured) container.

Was it perfect? Of course not. But it gave me a clue about direction. And, it improved my ability to coach the students in the skills of dialogue, which is something they need to be taught (it doesn’t magically appear, strangely). So I’ll be working on ‘cultivating’ in this arena as we move through the course.

Stay tuned for more.

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