Topical Discussions: Generative Learning Activities Focused on Course Content

Originally posted on March 26, 2010 by Brian Beatty

I use the HyFlex course design for graduate seminar classes; the only classes I teach right now. Each of these courses delivers/explores a body of content and requires students to read lots of information and make some sense of it, building their knowledge as they go. (Sound familiar?) Most classes requires students to complete comprehensive projects throughout the course of study, so at the end of the term, students have learned quite a bit and show what they learned in their projects artifacts and various reports.

After new information has been presented to students, they usually need an intermediate opportunity to develop understanding before they focus on applying new knowledge to their complex project settings. This is what interactive discussions are for … test out new ideas and begin thinking about how information is relevant, similar or different to what is already known, fits or doesn’t fit within schema, contributes to or detracts a sense of confidence and satisfaction in learning content, and on. Interactive discussions provide a vehicle for generative learning, which is critical to learning complex intellectual and cognitive skills.

Offline (in-class) students participate in weekly discussions about the current course topic. These are often recorded and archived for later review by all students – both on- and off-line. Recordings capture more that just content, they also capture information about how students are learning – who is talking (or not)?, what is being said (or not)?, and how are understandings changing?

Online discussions typically take place in an asynchronous forum. Students working online respond to a prepared discussion prompt that asks them to “talk about” course information in a meaningful way – often challenging them to begin to apply new concepts to their project context. Students are required to post their own response, reply to several others, and then to “reply to replies” before the discussion closes after a week. And after a discussion is “closed’ students can continue to read and interact in the forum even though the grading period has ended.

Besides generating learning activity, both on- and off-line interactive discussions also generate additional course content. In most discussions, students bring up applications of concepts to situations they’ve experienced or to their current application project(s). Whether on- or off-line, archived discussions represent a substantial amount of learning opportunity for students (and faculty!).

Next time I’ll write more about how effective these discussions in supporting student learning.

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