When I first began teaching online, I instantly recognized online education's potential to provide deeper discussion than face-to-face learning due to the greater thought-time to craft a comment and unlimited comment length. I saw students often expressing more insightful comments than I received in my face-to-face courses.
But I also saw that online discussion can turn into a rut of students providing generic responses that merely state the obvious, or just express agreement with one another. While I did not want to constrain discussion, I recognized the benefits of providing some structure to track responses to productive directions. Zora Wolfe (2017) suggests a number of different online discussion protocols that instructors can use to liven up discussion in their courses. Each provides a different way to improve student engagement with the course and learning outcomes.
The Four A's protocol is good for helping students read academic text. Students often have a hard time identifying the underlying positions and tracking the argument turns in academic text because they do not know what to look for. The Four A's protocol forces them into active reading. The instructor assigns a text and requires each student to make a post that answers the four questions (Grey, 2005):
- What Assumptions does the author of the text hold?
- What do you Agree with in the text?
- What do you want to Argue with in the text?
- What parts of the text do you want to Aspire to?
This format allows students to examine how they read texts by questioning others' interpretations of the work, as well as learn what they had missed by seeing what others got out of it. Students will discover methods for interpreting and understanding texts beyond what they have been using.
Three Levels of Text
The Three Levels of Text protocol is good for getting students to connect resources to their own work. Students read a text and then choose a passage that has implications for what they are doing in their own work. The students list the passage, provide a reflection on it, and then say how it can inform their own work. Students can then respond to one another's reflections. This type of protocol can complement other protocols such as the Four A's since the point here is not so much just understanding and critiquing an argument, but rather identifying what the student can take away from it. If we want to produce “lifelong learners” we need to teach students to view new ideas through the prism of how they can inform their own lives and work, and this exercise helps foster that growth mindset.
Save the Last Word for Me
The Save the Last Word for Me protocol helps students focus on learning from others and synthesizing what others have to say about one's own work. Each participant first posts a passage that is meaningful to them and then each person comments on everyone's passage. At the end, the person who posted the original message draws together the various comments to synthesize what the group says and draw any interesting conclusions from it. For instance, the person posting the passage might have interpreted it differently from others. This exercise allows students to not only see the wide variety of potential interpretations but also ask why people see the same thing differently.
Try applying one or more of these discussion protocols to your online teaching and see how they enrich your courses.
Wolfe, Z. (2017). Using protocols in online discussions. Connections,
November 2017, pp. 4-6.
Grey, J. (2005). Four “A”s Text Protocol. National Harmony Education Center
. Retrieved from: http://www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/4_a_text_0.pdf.