Whether you’re studying online, or facilitating online study, the issue of student participation is always going to dog you. This is a very important area that all tutors or online facilitators should be very knowledgeable about, as just one person ‘lurking’ or not joining in has a very marked effect on the whole online discussion.
So, what are the skills and techniques that can be used to ‘encourage’ the few who are reluctant to join in?
“Draw all students into the discussion. You can involve more students by asking whether they agree with what has just been said or whether someone can provide another example to support or contradict a point: “How do the rest of you feel about that?” or “Does anyone who hasn’t spoken care to comment on XYZ?” Moreover, if you move away from – rather than toward – a student who makes a comment, the student will speak up and outward, drawing everyone into the conversation. The comment will be “on the floor,” open for students to respond to.
“Give quiet students special encouragement. Quiet students are not necessarily uninvolved, so avoid excessive efforts to draw them out. Some quiet students, though, are just waiting for a non-threatening opportunity to speak.”
“Active facilitation – A variety of strategies were grouped in this category, including challenging students to answer more in depth, not letting people dominate the discussion, and stopping folks who are just participating for the sake of participating.
“Asking effective questions – This is related to the old adage about the quality of the questions being predictive of the quality of the answers. But there was also this student observation about a response that decreases discussion: “when a facilitator is looking for specific answers and does not consider alternative concepts.
“Affirm contributions and provide constructive feedback – Recommendations here ranged from stressing how the class benefits from wrong answers to making reference subsequently to student answers or writing good student responses on the board.”
“You can improve student participation in your course by devoting time and thought to shaping the environment and planning each class session. Furthermore, the way in which you interact, both verbally and non-verbally, communicates to students your attitude about participation.”
“The instructor’s goal is to create conditions that enable students of various learning styles and personalities to contribute. To reach this goal, you will need to take extra steps to encourage quiet students to speak up and, occasionally, ask the more verbose students to hold back from commenting in order to give others a chance.”