My Technology Fellows project involved developing a framework for digital discussions. My main goals were to make my classes “snowday-proof” and find a way to hold class if emergency or travel prevented me from getting to campus.
After a lackluster small-group discussion session in one of my courses, I am now thinking about whether it would be worthwhile to use my framework for digital discussions in class. Students were working hard during the class period, but the work was mostly independent — there was minimal discussion and collaboration. Any communication seemed aimed at comparing the answers that they already wrote and making adjustments if needed. My pleas to collaborate and discuss responses seemed to have minimal impact.
Regardless of any future success that I will have with my framework for digital discussions, the whole exercise has forced me to think carefully about what successful collaboration entails. The rubric that I developed establishes aspirational standards for (1) reading, (2) an open-ended initial discussion, (3) a discussion that precedes written collaborative responses and (4) the collaborative responses themselves. Why not broaden my approach and extend my aspirations to discussions in class?
As I think about methods for improving the quality of collaborative work in class, one option would be to present the rubric as a set of best practices that they should emulate as they have face-to-face discussions. A second option, if they have not yet had a digital discussion in the semester, would be to have them actually participate in a digital discussion in class, on their own laptops. In this case, they would be learning how to effectively collaborate by actually doing it — not just reading about it. Additionally, doing it in class would give me the opportunity to comment on successful (or unsuccessful) practices and take advantage of “teachable moments.” Together with the class, we could also troubleshoot in real time the challenges that emerge during typed chat-room discussions. Hopefully the lessons and values can then be internalized and carried forward into future face-to-face discussions.