Effective Online Models of Discussion-AR4

I was interested in Dixon’s (2014) article The Three E’s of Online Discussion, because of what we  discussed in our latest synchronous meeting. Over the years, I have been a part of many online classes that used both synchronous and asynchronous discussion with varying degrees of success. Being a somewhat introverted person, I often feel more comfortable with asynchronous sessions, because they allow me the freedom from time constraints and ability to think through a comment before posting it. I have also used both online synchronous and asynchronous discussions in my own classroom and was unsatisfied by the outcomes. In reading this article I was hoping to find an effective model for online discussion that would be applicable to my own secondary level classroom.

The author’s purpose was to produce a model of classroom discussion that addresses both fully online and blended classrooms that is “friendly and workable’ for practicing teachers and instructors of grades 7-12 and early college courses. The “Three E’s of Online Discussion’ are defined as “Experience, Engagement and Evaluation’(Dixon 2014). The initial step of “Experience’ is to create an online community. The author gives specific suggestions for building online communities that include giving students the opportunity to ask each other questions, converse, and by having regular contact under clearly defined expectations of “netiquette’. Dixon (2014) proposes that students be given a “trial-run’ period of discussion, before they are graded. He also suggests that this stage be used as a pre-assessment of student knowledge to later guide scaffolding of the course material.

The next phase of the model is the “Engagement’ phase and is defined as the “introduction of new material in a form that allows students to absorb it, examine it, and answer questions about it’(Dixon 2014). This is similar to what must happen in classroom discussion, but in online discussion, once a statement is made, it can be read again, leaving a digital footprint. It is critical that students have an understanding of the consequences of making statements that  will remain visible and connected to them long after the course has ended. The educator’s role in producing engaged discussion should involve giving students practice asking each other “open-ended questions, asking questions that focus on higher levels of cognition, and asking probing questions using the Socratic method’ (Dixon 2014). These questions should give students the chance to develop critical thinking skills by analyzing and synthesizing new information and by presenting it to each other to support their views (Dixon 2014). At the culmination of a successful discussion the educator should be able to step back and allow discussion to continue with only occasional prompts.

Finally, the Evaluation phase is used to measure the students’ clarity and comfort with the process of online discussion. According to Dixon (2014), effective evaluation requires clear expectations, in the syllabus, including types of discussion required for each section, the minimum number of posts required per week/month, the percentage of the grade reflecting participation in discussion and a rubric to guide grading.

This article should be considered an early attempt at producing a useful model, where little information is available to draw from. The author looked at two existing models created for traditional classroom discussion and one model from online discussion and tried to synthesize them into one generalized model for online and blended applications. This article gave helpful hints and ideas on creating course discussions, but in an attempt to keep the model general enough to make it useful to a broad audience, it lost much of its strength. An obvious area of improvement would be a test of the model.

Overall, this model offers a practical and flexible set of guidelines to aid in the design of online discussions. While much of the model might be considered traditional teaching practice, I feel that it is especially important to explore the “Experience’ step in the model. In an online environmentstudents given adequate time and practice opportunities to build confidence and familiarity with their online community? This is an area where I believe most courses fall short. I think it is notable that this section of the model gives us information on background knowledge and can greatly improve the effectiveness of our scaffolding practices during the “Engagement’ phase. The use of a generalized model in creating discussions can also give students a sense of familiarity that might shorten the needed period for “Experience’, when the model is used throughout a course or applied across content areas and grades.

This article inspired me to try online discussion again with my own students. I feel that by allotting more time and practice for my students to build an online community I would improve the outcomes in my own classroom. I think that more research into improving classrooms is needed at both the secondary level and higher education.

Works Cited

Dixon, C. S. (2014). The Three E’s of Online Discussion. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 15(1), 1—8.


5 thoughts on “Effective Online Models of Discussion-AR4

  1. amattacchione

    Like you, I have had mix experiences with online discussion boards. Overall, I do not like them nor think they are effective. I find them troublesome and when asynchronous, difficult to follow. It could be that I have not had successful experiences so therefore, it is difficult for me to see them as a benefit to my learning or the students. However, when instructors allow for synchronous discussion and the conversation can have a beginning and an end, then I find myself engaged and learning. I find myself wanting to complete the assignment, instead of just completing the assignment. I appreciate you sharing the article because I too need to learn more about the subject in order to ensure I have given the discussion due diligence.

  2. Owen

    This is a great article – and I like that they present a framework outlining the “Three E’s.” From my own experiences, I can add that asynchronous discussions are complicated. There are many variables: your cohort, your material, your platform, timing, etc…
    Little things like your prompts and the timing of when you ask them and when you ask students to reply and how you ask they reply can have huge and unanticipated effects.
    Much like a formal dinner party with a group of strangers, starting and maintaining an asynchronous community can be challenging and requires years of practice to master. That said, the results can be really valuable for all involved. I hope your journey in this area contains some successes as well as failures! 🙂

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