Discussion forums are commonly used to generate interaction among students, and research shows that higher-level thinking is possible. But all too often discussion prompts can be stale and unimaginative.

Kitten reflected in a mirrorLearning by Reflection

Several Ecampus math classes are using discussion prompts in a creative way to help students develop meta-cognitive skills related to their learning. The first is a reflection activity. After the assignment is graded, the instructor releases an answer key so students can look back at their work. “Learning from our mistakes, we start to understand what we are doing properly and what we are doing improperly,” explains the instructor in the purpose statement for the reflection forum.

This is an effective activity and, from the instructor’s perspective, easy to implement. Students review the solutions and compare against their answers, looking to see where their solution differs from the correct answer. For their discussion post, students are asked to respond in one of three ways:

  • For questions answered incorrectly, or where they struggled with a particular problem, students are to post why the solution makes sense.
  • If, after seeing the correct answers, students are still confused about a problem or the solution’s explanation, they should ask questions about what is unclear.
  • And for those students got the answers right, they discuss which problem was most challenging and describe the specific tasks, tools, or resources they used to get it right.

Creative Connecting and Sharing

The second creative discussion assignment from this class is a photo hunt, where students identify examples of math found in the everyday world, as well as connecting them with their peers.

This is a college algebra course. Students are required to learn, draw and recognize various algebraic functions in graphic form. The purpose of the photo hunt is to “apply learning in the real world to gain deeper connections between the content and our prior knowledge.” Students take and upload an original photo that fits the discussion topic. For example, these are the instructions for the Family of Functions forum. “Find a curve in your everyday life and discuss what function it looks like to you and what family it would belong to. What properties does your function have? What is the domain and range of the function in your picture? What do you find interesting about the curve in your picture?”

Students share photos and address the questions in their original post, which helps them connect with peers. As an example of how to satisfy this assignment, the instructor posted this message and image.

Excerpt of a post from a discussion. Includes a photo and text.

Math is All Around Us

I snuck a peak at some of the student posts and they were inspiring! The students were completely engaged, finding pictures of common, everyday things, including bookcases, steer horns, a slingshot, fallen trees, bicycle seats, a dolphin at Sea World, kitchen faucets, a cattle brand, artwork, Grand Central Station in NYC, flower petals, a tea kettle handle, roof tops, a baseball field, a candle snuffer, Hawaiian tide pools…even pets!  And those are just from one of the four photo hunt assignments! Since these students are from a variety of geographic locations in rural and urban areas, the photos represent a diverse and compelling range of creative and stimulating examples. Math is everywhere!

Be Bold, Be Creative

To boldly go. Toys from Star Trek.

As you can see from these two examples, discussion forums in an online course can be creative, fun, unique and engaging. Think about if there are ways to include images or graphic representations relevant for your discipline. With cell phones and video readily at hand for many students, it’s an easy way to get them involved and actively engaged.

By Susan Fein, Instructional Designer, susan.fein@oregonstate.edu

References & Photo Credits

  • Christopher, M. M., Thomas, J. A., & Tallent-Runnels, M. K. (2004). Raising the Bar: Encouraging High Level Thinking in Online Discussion Forums. Roeper Review, 26(3), 166-171.
  • MTH 111, OSU Ecampus, courtesy of Dan Rockwell and Katy Williams
  • Kitten Reflection: Paul Reynolds, CC BY 2.0
  • pokemon go | by Paintimpact pokemon go | by Paintimpact
  • Boldly Go: Guy H, CC BY 2.0
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