Online Teaching Tip #13 – Discussions are Not Essays

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Online Discussions are Not Essays

This can be a hard one. Here’s why.

As teachers, we are used to grading text-based documents a certain way. And those documents, research papers, essays, and the like, need to follow a very clear line of thought. They need to be free of spelling and grammatical errors. Citations are  are critical for both academic integrity and validating the information (the truth).

But the online discussion, though it is text-based, is a different animal altogether, and should be treated as such. It is a discussion. Discussions follow a line of thought, but it is often circuitous. There are interjections and rabbit trails, because it is dynamic, and because it’s a process of discovery. Imagine that you are in a discussion and someone corrects your use of English, or requires you to provide a citation (you may know people who actually do this–we avoid conversations with them). Such criteria stifles discussion. And when used, students stop sharing their opinions–a necessary initial phase of any discussion. They revert to writing mini-essays, and the emerging interaction between students withers on the vine.

In Sum: Using the wrong criteria to assess online discussions can be like an early frost–it’ll kill your discussions.

In future tips, I’ll spell out some criteria that will help you to both make your online discussions true discussions and help you hold your students to a standard of quality in their online interaction.

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