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jlenrow
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Discussion Posts by Faculty

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I know that this might seem like a silly question since no one asks this about face to face instruction, but would any of you mind sharing what you tell faculty who ask "how many posts should I make in a weekly threaded discussion so that I am fully engaged with the class but not overwhelming?"  

I know that your answer might depend on how many students are in the class, but do you offer any guidelines?  Maybe xxx total posts by a faculty member for every yyy posts by all of the students or something like that?  

Thanks for any information and/or resources you might be able to provide.

JDL

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I am an absolute believer of faculty presence and engagement in online courses, so I understand the good intention here, but my reaction to this 25% requirement is probably the same reaction that students have to most of the requirements we impose on them for such-and-such a grade: it seems very arbitrary.

Yes, it's something you can easily go in and measure... but usually the most meaningful things about teaching and also about learning are things that cannot be reduced to a number. I would say that is definitely true for quality of faculty engagement in a course.

I could see suggesting to faculty members that one thing they might try is participating more in discussions (it's one potential strategy among many), but as I said above, there are many other things faculty members could do with their time which might have a greater impact than that; it all depends on the design of their course, their goals, their students, etc.

The real question, I think, is let's say a faculty member does bump their participation to 25% as recommended/required: how then will you know that it is having the desired effect, i.e. that students in the class are more engaged, learning more, etc. etc.? 

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28 Replies
laurakgibbs
Community Champion

Hi Jon! For what it's worth, I see my role as staying out of the discussion entirely but spending my energy instead on other aspects of the class (giving students lots of feedback about their projects, working on designing the reading/writing/discussion activities so that everything is clear, scaffolded, well supported, etc.). So I don't think you'll ever find a rule of thumb here, but instead a whole range, including zero.

Just as an example of scaffolding, I work really hard on building up a positive feedback culture in the class so that students are making substantive, constructive comments that are really useful... which is not an easy task for them, especially since they often haven't been taught about different feedback strategies. I wrote about the current four-week sequence of assignments I'm using for that here:

https://community.canvaslms.com/people/laurakgibbs/blog/2018/08/15/4-week-feedback-bootcamp 

I need to write a follow-up about how student-to-student interaction is going; so far, I am really pleased with what I'm seeing. I don't participate in discussion, but I do keep an eye on that as it scrolls by in my feed reader (I rely on a blog network rather than discussion boards since that is a better fit for my classes).

Thanks so much, Laura!  I took a quick gander at your course and will come back to look at it in more detail.

I should have also explained in my original post that I have several roles at Peirce.  Yes, I am one of the Canvas Admins.  The question about participation came to me in my role as Dean, Academic Operations and Faculty Support.  Sally, a fictitious Department Chair told Bob, a fictitious Professor, that he, Bob, needs to be more engaged in the class discussions.  Bob asked, well, how many should I have for you not to tell me that?  Sally came to me and asked what our institutional expectation is.  After 20 years doing online education, neither I nor the institution has a definitive answer to that.  So, being our first year with Canvas (what an awesome difference!) I figured this was a good time to ask the community.  

I should also point out that I am really horrible at finding other stuff that people have posted - probably because I don't spend enough time in the community - but I should have been able to find your posts.  Regardless, thanks for sharing!

JDL

laurakgibbs
Community Champion

No worries,  @jlenrow ‌: there are all kinds of ways to browse and explore the Community, and you will find some really good discussion, documents, etc. about discussion board strategies for improving the quality of discussion overall. 

I should add that another reason I'm not inclined to participate in discussions myself is that there are two criteria that drive how I spend my time: how many students will SEE the work I contribute, and how will students USE the work I contribute.

SEEN BY MANY: I do daily announcements for my classes, and that is a huge part of my online presence in the class; announcements are good because lots of students see them; I use a blog for announcements -- you can see them here in my class (it's open): Myth.MythFolklore.net

USED BY ONE: I also do detailed one-on-one feedback for my students' projects -- and students use those comments as part of an ongoing write-revise-write-revise process that lasts all semester. So, even though only one student sees those comments, it is worth my time to write detailed comments, because the student will use those comments in a deep way.

That's where participating in a discussion board does not really appeal to me: only a few students will see my posts, or maybe only one or two, and even if they do see my posts, they also are probably not going to actually use those posts. So, not a good use of my time, at least compared to other ways I can engage with the class.

But that's just my perspective; everybody designs their course in their own way. I know  @kmeeusen ‌ is a serious and creative user of the discussion boards, and I bet he would have some thoughts here!

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

I actively participate in my discussions. What that means is that 3-4 times a week I’ll read through what’s going on and add some feedback (if the student isn’t on the right track), general comment, or extra information. There is no magic number, I just go with what seems needed - similar to what I tell my students when they ask about follow-up replies becaus I don’t do post once respond twice (or three times). 

I get a lot of positive feedback back from my students for actively engaging with them in the discussion. They tell me that they like me participating and wish more faculty participated. Otherwise to them it seems like I’m not an active member in their class. 

I also engagement in many other ways with my students, but discussions is one place they specifically mention liking to see me participate. 

Kona

laurakgibbs
Community Champion

And I think you have nailed here with "no magic number,"  @kona ‌: setting numbers is almost always arbitrary in education, and we need to stop doing that IMO and instead ask about need, about quality, about the real stuff. Saying that teachers need to respond to 25% of items on a discussion board is just as arbitrary as saying 90% (or 93% or whatever) is an A, etc.

I absolutely understand the need for assessment and feedback, but I reject the use of arbitrary numbers to rate and rank both students and instructors. It's a misleading and even dangerous distraction from what we need to be paying attention to instead, even if that other stuff is often hard or even impossible to measure with simple numbers.

What a great resource Laura!

I have been lucky enough to have experience as a student, instructor, designer, and admin in the Canvas environment over the years. As a student getting the “feeling” that the instructor was engaged in some manner was huge.  Its changed the way I design. Having frequent announcements was extremely helpful. Especially when those announcements were used in a manner to “recap” issues or themes that came up in discussions and assignments in the prior week and to set “the stage” or give an overview of the week to come. It made the course feel much more customized rather than cookie cutter. In the beginning of courses it was helpful to have the instructor involved in some discussions also to clarify things. I have been in courses where discussion's have gotten completely off topic with no input from the instructor which made them useless to the material we were learning. Having the instructor on the "sidelines" was helpful to at least keep things on track in the sense of what the purpose of the discussion was.  

As an admin I understand why there is a desire to quantify an instructor’s participation in a course. It’s an easy way to do an assessment. You match a number to a chart and get a result. I fully agree with you that an arbitrary number is not the answer. I think administrators need to ask themselves why is there a need to improve participation in a course. Be honest and up front about it. Is it a legal requirement the school wants to cover themselves for? Has there actually been an issue reported by students in the course? Did the recommendation come out of a peer review of the course? Based on that information, having the instructor work with an Instructional Designer to improve the course would be much more beneficial. Unfortunately that takes a lot more time than a check off list.  Just think what could come out of that exchange though. The instructor gets more insight as to what could actually make the student experience better in their particular course which would make their teaching online more effective. It would also lead to a great pool of internal resources that instructors could share and see how others on their campus have solved similar issues in their course.  

Ohhh, I so agree with that POOL OF INTERNAL RESOURCES that can be shared and re-used. Yes yes yes!

In a sense, that is how I approach it with my students: for example, at midterm time, I ask them to write blog posts about how the course is going, and specifically how it is going for them. That is useful for the students, and it is so useful for me too! Here's a blog post about my process for that:

https://community.canvaslms.com/people/laurakgibbs/blog/2018/10/06/what-teachers-learn-from-students... 

Rather than monitoring students, I feel like it is my job to create spaces/experiences where the students monitor themselves and then report back on that in a way that is useful for them AND useful for me.

So maybe that would be a good idea to weave into the discussion here: instead of monitoring what faculty are doing, maybe it is more productive to build in reflections and self-assessments so that the faculty could monitor their own participation, set goals, reflect/proflect on progress towards those goals, etc. That could be useful for the faculty member and could also turn into a larger discussion with other faculty that makes it useful for everybody!

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Hi Laura, your post about "Pool of Internal Resources" made me wonder about how you would address the following.

Let's say someone says, "Laura, you are really good at creating educational resources.  Could you spend 80 hours or so, not as part of your regular paid-for hours, meaning on your own (as in weekends and after hours), developing a module on the topic of "ABC" that you will then give away to all other instructors, who devoted absolutely no time of their own, to use for free?"

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That's why you do it together. 

See what Maureen said for the context.

I see it like this:

Option 1: Administrator X counts up the number of discussion posts each week by Faculty A, C, B, D, E, F, and G. She files the report in a virtual file cabinet. At the end of the semester, she sends an email reprimanding Faculty B and Faculty E for having posted replies only to an average 23.27% and 18.43% of student posts. Faculty B deletes the email without reading it; Faculty E reads the email, gets angry, and responds to even fewer student posts next semester.

Option 2: Administrator X creates a group blog to share with the faculty. Each week, she along with Faculty A, B, C, D, E, F, and G each write a post in their blog which contains a paragraph about the successes of the discussion board that week and a paragraph about setbacks or problems in their use of the discussion board (if Administrator X does not teach, she can visit the discussion boards of people who do and observe). This takes 10 minutes. They also takes 5 minutes reading and commenting on each other's posts from last week in a random round-robin.

Result: growth and learning.

I vote for Option 2.

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Interesting options, Laura.

In option #1, I would have to support Faculty B's actions because it is obvious that Administrator X has never read the posts that Faculty B made to students, they are only interested in the count, and not the quality.  Faculty E should learn from Faculty B, there is no reason go give yourself anxiety from these kinds of administrators.  Faculty B's action is much better.

For option #2, I understand what you are getting at.  However, doing this "weekly" is an overkill.  And it still might get to what the administration is seeking.  If someone were to ask me to do this right now, I would say "I continue to have weekly discussions and students continue being active.  Some students discuss early, but a majority of students make their posts within 2 days of the due date."  Then I would copy/paste this into my weekly posts (each week.)  (Actually, I would use my "quick key" application, build this into a "canned" reply, so that all I need to type is `mwp.  This stands for "my weekly post.")  I would rather invest time in what my students are saying instead of what some administrator is trying to calculate.  It seems like a lot of administrator silly gobbledgook to me.  Is the administrator going to grade me on this?  Is the administrator going to count my posts, or count my words?

But I do understand your option #2.  Instead of weekly, I would support that the faculty be required to write a brief summary report at the end of the course, or semester, stating what their goals and objectives were, how well these goals and objectives where achieved, some brief examples of quizzes, assignments, and discussions, some student comments (both positive and negative,) what technologies worked well and didn't work well, and what improvements are going to tried the next time to improve the course.  Once this report is submitted, the faculty would then be eligible for the "teaching with technology" stipend.  

Option #3 goes like this.  Administrator X becomes a participant in my course.  Administrator X is expected to participate just like any other student.  If Administrator X doesn't participate, as part of my grading, this Administrator gets a low grade.  In this way, if the Administrator gets a low grade the instructor can say "Don't bother me anymore."  If the Adminstrator gets a high grade, the Administrator would see that there is no need to bother me anymore.

Well, I don't think weekly is overkill because I am a fan of process not product. Plus, I'm braindead by the end of the semester, while I'm likely to get all kinds of fresh new ideas early in the semester. I see the same in my students too; by the end of the semester, they are dragging, but early in the semester, everybody is full of energy. I say capture the energy in writing early so you can use it later; don't wait. Write NOW.

As for taking classes as a student, I'm taking my class this semester. It's been a blast, and I'm really regretting not having formally done this every semester. Good use of my time in every way (and yes, it is my "free" time... but I am enjoying my own course far more than any MOOC I ever took ha ha ha). I've been writing about it here:

https://community.canvaslms.com/people/laurakgibbs/blog/tags#/?tags=totalcolearner 

And yeah, I'm writing about that every week. Because if I waited until Week 15 or after to write it, I wouldn't even remember what I was doing back in Week 2 or 3 or 4 etc.

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Well Laura, I think that we have proof that at least you and I take an interest in what students say (post.)  And I have come to this conclusion by not count "number of posts" or "number of words."  I would have no problem assigning you to a course that includes student discussions.

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I don't know: I can't stand the discussion board. So I might boycott ha ha.

I never use them in my classes. 🙂

There is some truth to what you say, Laura.  Actually, this discussion board product in our Canvas Community is much better than what the Canvas product provides.  I actually like some of its features better than the actual Canvas discussion tool.  Smiley Happy  (You see, I can add an emoji here, but not in my Canvas course!)  I view the Canvas discussion tool as one of the weakest features when compared to all major LMSs.  In fact, I do not use the Canvas discussion tool in my courses, so in a sense, you can see my agreement with your "I can't stand..." statement, especially if you were referring to the Canvas discussion tool and not this one that we are using.  (Just a little more of my 2 cents.)  To make my point, let's ask the administrators here to switch exclusively to using their own Canvas tool for this Community.  How far will that suggestion go?

As another example, Canvas offers no easy way for me to answer the question "Show me the posts that Sally made?"  I have never found a forum search tool in Canvas.  So even if I wanted to show Administrator X some of the quality posts from Sally, I would have to do a lot of hunting to find them.  I can't even easily find my own posts!  (I always look forward to people telling me that I am missing something. I hope that my comments are incorrect so that I learn.)

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My concerns with the discussion board format are long-standing... but yes, even as discussion boards go, the Canvas one is not notably good in any way. 

I got my first real experience in social media with Ning started back around ten years ago or so. Ning always had an option of discussion boards or blogs, much like here at the Community too. I would participate in discussions there (as I do here), but I always made my own contributions in the form of blogs rather than starting discussions... as I do here.

I just prefer blogs: the sense of personal continuity from post to post, the personal artifact it creates that you have at the end ("all posts by Sally" as it were) -- those are features I really value. You can have discussions via the comments on blog posts (not ideal, although discussion boards are hardly ideal either!), but the blog posts have value even when there is low/no participation.

That's why I've built my classes around blogs/websites rather than discussion boards. I'm always looking for ways to do better and improve, but discussion boards do not offer me any solutions to the problems I am trying to solve. 

Good discussion, Laura!

(Incidentally, if a student were to make this reply to your post, the student would NOT receive their points when I read it.  I tell my students that short replies, such as "I agree" or "Good discussion," are fine to make, but if they want their points, they need to elaborate on what they are saying.  In other words, I would have to say more about why I think your discussion is good.  However, since I am not being graded, I will just say "Good discussion!" Smiley Happy  )

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Ha ha ha, I am not going to require you to use WWW or TAG strategies because I have no intentions of revising my posts. But if I were revising... well, I might count your words AND ask you to learn some feedback strategies. WWW is my favorite. It's all about the wow. 🙂

Online Course Wiki WWW

🙂

Wow!

Images FTW.

I am hoping they will (finally) improve image support in the discussion board at Canvas.

People have been waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/1053-upload-an-image-directly-to-a-discussion-as-a-student 

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Yes, I know exactly what you mean.  In fact, my image upload above was a test for you and others!  Would anyone comment about how awkward image uploading is in the real Canvas discussion product?  You, Laura, get my 2 bonus points for making this comment. (You know, in the real Canvas product it is difficult to give bonus points, or to give you points for your post right now, and keep track of it.)

I found your post about using Ning very interesting.  Many years ago I was at a school that was using the then (and now) very popular LMS product.  This was pre-Canvas years.  The product was terrible at losing forum posts!  Posts would disappear, then reappear, and of course, when they would reappear a student would have redundant posts... a mess!  I set out to find an alternative, and I stumbled into "blogs," and in particular, WordPress.   So I started exploring WordPress as an alternative to the discussion board product from (XYZ.)  So I find it interesting that today, you like using Ning (which is a "competitor" to WordPress.)  You brought back some old memories!  Even XYZ discussion board tool has some better features than the current Canvas tool.

Yep, if you want to have good quality courses, you have to have good quality support and features.  My own school has somewhat suggested Piazza as an alternative for those who need a better discussion board tool, which I don't know much about.  I use a different product that solves my problems.

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I am curious about Piazza although I'm not sure it would really work for my classes (I teach writing, so blogs are a natural fit)... so, I'm very happy with my blog solution. I use Inoreader for a live feed of the blogs IN Canvas. That works for me! 🙂

Blog Stream: Myth-Folklore section 995 - Fall 2018 

And the posts are full of images. 🙂

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richard-jerz
Community Contributor

Do you doubt that if Sally told Bob something like "10 a week" that Bob would have problems making that many posts?  Bob could easily make posts "Great comment!" or "I like what you are saying." Or even "xax loris xbse qbxds." Would these count as posts?

So to me, your question is the exact same question that some administrators ask about student posts.  How many?  How many words?  Etc.  When one resorts to simple counting, it doesn't work.

My point is that the quality of discussions can only be judged by what is said.  In other words, Sally would need to read every post in order to make the judgment as to the discussion quality, and whether Bob is involved.   Is Sally willing to do this?  For every course?  If so, then Sally will know.

reynolds1
New Member

EDUKAN, a western Kansas consortium of community colleges, requires that faculty should interact in all assigned discussions in each course by responding to no less than 25% of the enrolled students in the course.  More is better.  We expect the responses to go beyond "good job", "outstanding" types of comments.  We monitor this activity with our newly implemented Online Course Observation.  Faculty receive the observation report along with recommendations for improvement.  Follow up does occur for those who are not participating as they should.   

I am an absolute believer of faculty presence and engagement in online courses, so I understand the good intention here, but my reaction to this 25% requirement is probably the same reaction that students have to most of the requirements we impose on them for such-and-such a grade: it seems very arbitrary.

Yes, it's something you can easily go in and measure... but usually the most meaningful things about teaching and also about learning are things that cannot be reduced to a number. I would say that is definitely true for quality of faculty engagement in a course.

I could see suggesting to faculty members that one thing they might try is participating more in discussions (it's one potential strategy among many), but as I said above, there are many other things faculty members could do with their time which might have a greater impact than that; it all depends on the design of their course, their goals, their students, etc.

The real question, I think, is let's say a faculty member does bump their participation to 25% as recommended/required: how then will you know that it is having the desired effect, i.e. that students in the class are more engaged, learning more, etc. etc.? 

reynolds1
New Member

Laura good thoughts provided.  At EDUKAN we are new to applying this directive from our chief academic officers.  We do expect quality and that is observed as well.  It has to be more than "good job" type of interaction.  We don't just go in and take 25% of the course enrollment and count the posts and it's done. It's not a number thing for us even though we request 25% of the enrollment to be responded to in the discussions.  Instructor interaction in the course has been identified on our surveys as a weak area and this is an attempt to help make the instructor more visible and active with the class as a whole.   On the week of observation for a faculty, the discussions are reviewed for their quality. The faculty do present a tremendous amount of feedback on graded assignments which is more a one-on-one interaction with each single student.  By making one's presence known within the discussion the instructor shows some visibility in the course.  I'm sure as time goes by there will be adjustments to the guidelines presented.  The discussion responses I have observed have been quality posts by faculty to the students and students have responded to many of those faculty responses.  Measuring the effectiveness will be the challenging aspect of this required guideline. As I mentioned, we are just implementing this process, and I am sure it will change as time goes by.  Appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,  @reynolds1   ! That question of visibility and one/many is what I mentioned above in my own deliberations: I opted for daily announcements as the main way I build my presence into the class because I was not really sure that comments in discussion would get the same persistent visibility. I don't know if that is something you have pondered as another option, but I have gotten a lot of positive results from these daily announcements; some students even stay subscribed to them after the class is over, and they send me things that I can put in the announcements. I do my daily announcements as a blog inside Canvas; you can see how that works here (I keep my courses open):

Myth.MythFolklore.net

Students can also re-use that announcement content for an assignment; there's an extra-credit "review of the week" activity where they can opt to go back through the past week of announcements and find their favorite item plus watch one of the videos (here's Week 7 for example)... that gives them a chance to review what I've shared (since they don't read the announcements every day), and I also learn a lot from seeing what items they pick as their favorites.

There's a lot of re-use for me also: I can re-use the announcements semester to semester, while tweaking them all the time with new content, including new content that I feature from my student's work (which would be the equivalent of highlighting great discussion board posts if a course uses discussion boards instead of blogs for student activity/interactivity).

For me, these daily announcements have been a great strategy; it's fun for the students and for me, and the fact that there are new announcements every day lets the students know I am here for them, every day (teaching online is my full-time job).

reynolds1
New Member

EDIUKAN does encourage faculty to use announcements and those who do get very good results. When I was teaching I did make a lot of use of announcements and found them beneficial to the student and myself.  The "best practice" of the use of announcements has been shared many times with faculty to get them to see the benefit.  As a matter of fact one of our survey questions asks students to respond about the use of announcements in the course.  The student responses about announcements are very positive.  

I am so glad to hear about that student response. That has been my experience also. I used to do weekly announcements, but student interest is what led me to go to MTWThF, and then when I realized that most students actually do their work on the weekends, I switched to all 7 days. It's not a lot of work and SO MUCH benefit, at least for my type of classes, which are Gen. Ed., very much just trying to get students exciting about writing, reading, art, etc. 🙂