by Lian Partlow | July 29, 2010
By Alair Altiero and Lian Partlow
A learner recently shared how energizing it has been for her to participate in courseroom discussions with peers in other states. The discussions pique her interest and she finds herself spending more time than she thought she would conversing in the courseroom. Another learner recently lamented that she did not understand why she had to meet course discussion posting deadlines since she wanted more flexibility in timing and the ability to be more independent of her colleagues. Both of these experiences express the challenges of online discussion forums and remind us how vital they are to our academic success.
Our ideas do not grow in a vacuum. They germinate through scholarly dialog. At the heart of participating in an academic and professional community is active engagement of each other’s ideas. You engage in an on-going conversation with other professionals regarding shared workplace challenges and proposed solutions. Within your courses, discussion postings are an essential medium by which you demonstrate academic success and articulate ideas among your peers.
Practice critical thinking skills and professional communication as you connect with peers around the country and sometimes, even the world. As you dialog, respond to readings, and analyze your colleagues’ ideas, keep an open mind. Value differences of opinion and try to broaden your perspectives. Take time to formulate thoughtful responses to other postings and provide them with substance. In turn, be open to constructive feedback from faculty and fellow learners.
Post timely discussions. By posting late, you lose the benefit of being actively involved in the “live dialog” of the courseroom, which is part of the learning process. Just as you would not have a discussion by yourself once everyone had left the classroom in a brick-and-mortar university, you do not want to post in an online courseroom once everyone else has moved on. Similarly, do not work too far ahead. Learning is not a race. It is an interactive experience. There is no gold star for finishing first. What youlearn from others is worth more than gold.
Be sure to cite sources in your discussion postings. Not only is it important to support your ideas with scholarly citations, it is good practice for your academic development (for PhD learners preparing for the comprehensive exam and dissertation). Make it a habit to move beyond opinion-based statements to research-based arguments. This is how you begin to become a scholar.