4 Options for Discussions in a Blended Learning Classroom Setup
Odds are good that you moved to a blended learning classroom setup because you were limited on time and resources or needed to reach students in diverse locations. And odds are also good that you really need to focus your face-to-face time on critical skills practice and making sure students are really getting the big ideas.
So discussion questions can help you—but here’s the tricky thing: How can you make sure you focus on the big ideas in the classroom? What can you do outside of the classroom? And will there still be room for higher-order thinking?
So what can you do?
Step 1: Look at your face-to-face time. What do you want to keep there? What could you move out of the classroom?
Step 2: Assess your options for discussion outside of the classroom. And guess what? You have options.
Now on to those options…
Option 1: Use what you have.
Start out by looking at your computer-based curriculum, and keep these thoughts in mind:
- Does it have any functions that allow students to answer open-ended questions that only you will see?
- Does it include any discussion areas where students can either respond to questions or share and discuss questions with other students?
If it does, learn how to use these functions to encourage student discussions. Or if there is a discussion area on your school website, use it in the same way.
Option 2: Use a discussion or social networking website.
Using an outside website such as Twitter or Facebook could be an option, depending how savvy you and your students are. Though choosing this option does come with some extra obstacles.
If you want students to access an outside discussion website, not only will you have to take time to set it up and make sure it works well, you also need to be prepared to answer any questions about the technical use of the site.
And if you want them to access the site from school computers, check with your IT staff to see if it is an allowed site. Verify that the site is acceptable for students to use in class... in some cases, Facebook is going to be out of the question. But there are other sites that offer closed-access (where you designate who can and cannot participate) and allow you the ability to administer student comments.
Edmodo is a free social network and discussion tool with has lots of other features, like file sharing. If you can spare a few minutes, it's well worth the time to check out!
Using an online option like this does have one big benefit: In a class discussion, you may struggle to require everyone to participate. But in an online discussion forum, you can require student participation.
Option 3: Write it out.
If you want to go the "old-school route," you can provide frequent discussion questions throughout the course. Tell your students to submit either typed or written responses to you.
Make this part of each unit so it’s an expectation. Even if you have cool technology tools, you probably DO want to include some writing in your course, so this is a great way to do so.
Option 4: Stick with face-to-face group discussion.
Keep the big discussions in the face-to-face course meetings. This allows you to reteach any gaps in understanding or to steer the flow of ideas to cover content you need students to fully grasp.
Face-to-face group discussions also help you deliver content to students. You cannot guarantee that your students are reading everyone’s responses on an online discussion area, but you can make sure they hear each others responses in a class discussion.
And debatable questions are good for the classroom rather than the other options shared above. Really good meaty question with lots of possible correct answers will get students engaged in the discussion. And the best part is, it will break up the class between computer learning and skills practice.