One Post and Two Responses: Enlivening the Online Discussion Forum

One Post and Two Responses: Enlivening the Online Discussion Forum

Allison A. Alcorn (Illinois State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5109-6.ch003
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This chapter considers the online discussion forum in music education. It begins with an overview of factors leading to faculty frustration with online discussions before considering how discussions fit within the context of several prominent learning theories, including Connectivism and Collaborativism, which specifically address the online platform. Particular challenges are explored and include post lengths, quality, language/style, group size, heated discussion, and faculty involvement in the ongoing conversation. The chapter concludes by offering a “toolbox” of best practice ideas in online discussion. Through use of examples, the section seeks to help faculty move beyond the tried and tired format of one post and two responses.
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In the fall of 2014, nearly six million students were enrolled in an online course at degree-granting postsecondary institutions (U.S. Department of Education). A 2016 study showed 28% of higher education students—about one in four—were enrolled in at least one online course (EdTech, 2016). Paradoxically, the latter study also revealed faculty confidence in online courses had decreased, with only 29.1% of chief academic officers surveyed reporting their faculty accepting the “value and legitimacy of online education” (EdTech, 2016). On the other hand, sites like iMod EDUCATION claim “it is predicted” that by 2019 at least 50% of all classes will be delivered online (iMod Education, 2016). Granted, iMod Education has a vested interest in seeing the number of online classes increase, and the organization fails to cite a source for that statistic, but the same trend is echoed by a somewhat more neutral source, (2017) reports online education seeing a steady increase in 2017, but cautions that as students are presented with more choices from more institutions, the competition for those students is also increasing. Furthermore, the BestColleges report corroborates the sense that faculty support for online delivery remains a challenge. Even among the ranks of faculty who are not enthusiastic about online education, few would argue online education is not here to stay. Therefore, it is pertinent to consider why so many faculty have reservations.

Some of those reservations may stem from the fact that many faculty have never been a student in an online course, nor have they received sufficient training in online techniques and methodologies (Palloff & Pratt, 2011). This may account for faculty dissatisfaction—it is difficult to get behind something one has never had the opportunity to truly use or understand. Many faculty may eschew unmet outcomes rather than any substantial debate. For example, much concern is levied regarding in-group homogeneity (Sunstein, 2001) and echo chambers (Edwards, 2015) resulting in the failure of students to work toward more informed positions or even a change of position through vigorous presentation of information supported with solid evidence. It is easy to blame the online platform rather than recognize that techniques used in face-to-face instruction may need to be adjusted to better suit the online environment.

At least anecdotally, the most substantial faculty frustration and dissatisfaction may be in the discussion forum. While the discussion forum has been a backbone of online courses, it is quite possibly one of the most poorly-used tools in online education. Not only do faculty see unmet learning outcomes with discussions, students also quickly grow bored with the standard “one post and two responses” format to which many course designers used as design defaults in early course iterations. However, more importantly, the “one post and two responses” structure is not actual discussion. Instead, students dutifully make their first post, and may even write deeply and thoughtfully in their two responses. But, after that point they have fulfilled the requirements and are “done” with the assignment—just as the “discussion” is taking shape and ideas are starting to circulate and move into the meta-cognitive learning stage as described in the early writings of Henri (see Havard, Du, & Olinzock, 2005, p. 1154).

Online education has been mainstream for long enough now that it is time to re-evaluate the discussion forum, specific to online music courses. As such, this chapter will highlight 21st century learning theories and best practices, and address the challenges and opportunities that have been revealed in the last decade or more of online learning. Application will focus on the discussion forum in so-called academic music, specifically music history. The chapter will conclude with a “toolbox” of discussion forum activity ideas.

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