From Posting to Dialogue: 10 Easy Steps
In many online classes, students have a tendency to view the discussion area as a place to debate argumentatively, to post summaries of articles or to post lengthy opinions. Rarely does the discussion reach the level of dialogue. Dialogue "is a living experience of inquiry within and between people.(1) It is "a conversation with a center, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before." It is a "flow of meaning."(2) Dialogue is "about evoking insight, which is a way of reordering our knowledge--particularly the taken-for-granted assumptions that people bring to the table."(3) We would like to suggest 10 steps for moving the online discussion in your course from posting to dialogue. Items 5-10 could be copied and pasted into your course so students begin to understand the purpose of the dialogue.
- Questioning. Ask questions that lead to higher level thinking: I wonder... Why... Do you think...? Ask real questions. Don't ask questions that have one or two word answers. Don't ask rhetorical or sarcastic questions. Learning to ask divergent questions as well as convergent ones will increase the level of thinking and learning. For example, divergent questions are:
- productive in contrast to reproductive (students are asked to produce rather than reproduce). e.g. List different ways to see without using the eyes. Or list occupations that require eyesight.
- comparing and contrasting (moving from concrete to abstract ideas) e.g. Compare/contrast books and lectures. How is building a building similar to/different from building a relationship?(4)
- Future Thinking. Imagining what could happen in the future requires students to make predictions based on the knowledge they have. It encourages them to share their ideas. Here's an example:
- Don Tapscott has made some predictions about what the workplace of the future will be like. What about your workplace? Be creative and imagine what your classroom will look like in 5, 10, or 15 years from now. Thinking back to last week's question, will you still be needed?(5)
- Invitations to share feelings and opinions. These invitations open the door to motivation through emotion. Asking student's opinions requires them to take sides on an issue, to analyze the options and internalize them, making a commitment. Here are some examples:
- Respond to one or both of these questions. Do you agree with the description of your generation? What about the others described? Do your experiences challenge or confirm the description?
- How do you think online interaction affects kids? How has it affected you? (experience)
- "Is this a generation of children who are beginning to process information and reason differently than the rest of us?" p. 102 Growing Up Digital(6)
- Personal Experience. Share your personal experiences and ask others to share their experiences. In responding to someone's experience, ask questions to clarify, but don't make judgments. When students share their experiences, they are accessing their prior knowledge, and making connections between the content and their own lives. Here are some examples:
- After reading chapter one, share an experience you've had with the "Net Generation". Do your experiences confirm what you read or challenge what you read?
- From this week's introduction page quote, what technology may as well be magic to you? Why or in what ways? (This class had a weekly technology quote posted on the assignments page. The quote mentioned was: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -Arthur C. Clarke)
- Have you ever purchased anything online? What was it? What was your experience like? Would you do it again? If you haven't, then why?(7)
- The purpose of dialogue is to understand another person's viewpoint and to possibly change your own pesrpective or position. Come to the discussion area with the expectation that your ideas will change rather than that you will have arguments or points to make that will make you the winner of the argument.
- Answering. Answer real questions with real answers. Share your sincere, thoughtful, and informative comments.
- Check Your Voice. Be sensitive to your voice and the ease of putting people down online. Avoid harsh, short, judgmental, arrogant statements. Use emoticons to soften your writing, such as the smile :). Or explain emotion with *'s. For example *laughing*, *sarcastic*, *crying*. Reread your comments before you post them to be sure you said what you meant.
- Metaphor. Suggest an analogy or metaphor to answer a question or to pose one.
- Ask a Question in return. When someone asks a question, ask a question in return.
- Building Knowledge. Envision your "posts" as extensions to constructing knowledge, rather than a debate where people on opposite sides are mustering arguments to win. Recognize that we live in a culture that tries to portray ideas as black and white or diametrically opposed. Learn to say "both/and" rather than "either/or". You will also be part of changing the culture away from debate.
With a little practice, and possibly a change of attitude, you will find the discussion in your class blossoming. Your students will enjoy your class more because they feel connected to each other, the content, and their instructor.
- Isaacs, William. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together. New York: Currency. p. 9.
- Ibid. p. 19.
- Ibid. p. 45.
- Adapted from Nancy Johnson.
- Questions are from WebCT exemplary course called WebQuests by Janine Lim and Kevin Clark. The questions are designed to start discussion on the book Growing Up Digital by Don Tapscott.
For additional reading, see the following books:
Tannen, Deborah. (1998). The argument culture: Moving from debate to dialogue. Random House: New York.
Flick, Deborah. (1998). From Debate to Dialogue: Using the Understanding Process to Transform Our Conversations. Boulder, CO: Orchid Publications.
© 2001 ©AVLN. Active Online Learning course prepared by Marilyn Eggers, Shirley Freed & Janine Lim. This article by Shirley Freed & Janine Lim.