Whether you are new to the online learning environment, or a seasoned student, discussion board posts and teamwork pose a challenge. You wonder why your instructors require you to work as part of a team. You wonder if there is a purpose for discussion boards beyond earning grade points or attendance. You feel awkward posting your ideas on a discussion board, or feel offended if other students don’t agree with you. The majority of my college coursework has been in the online environment, and I’ve asked many of the same questions. As an online student, I learned a lot about how to get the most from class discussions and teamwork assignments. I will share a few pointers that you will find helpful as you think about how to be successful in these two areas.
First, as an online student, you are part of an exciting trend in higher education. More universities are offering online courses, and many, like Everest University Online, offer entire degree programs in the online format. As an online student, you have a unique opportunity to interact, contribute your ideas, and share your experience with a diverse group of students. Our students live in every state, and some in other countries. Unlike most ground campus classrooms, you have more opportunities to get to know and work with other students by sharing on the discussion board, and working on teamwork projects. In many ground classes, students do not have time to hang out before and after class getting to know each other. Here, it’s as easy as logging into class.
The discussion board is the backbone of the online learning environment. Dr. Andy Hauk, program director for Everest University Online’s Business program shares that “class discussion is the place where the real learning happens as students interact with the instructor and each other.” He notes that the “discussion board is the place where instructors and students share real life experiences.” Here, ideas are shared and opinions challenged (politely). Such intellectual exchanges can be woven into personal and work lives.
In each Everest University Online course, the instructions for discussion posts are posted in the syllabus, and often in the course announcements. The word “substantive” is usually found in the instructions and is the key to successful posts. What makes a substantive discussion post? One of my instructors often refers to “chewy” discussion posts. A substantive or chewy post should demonstrate serious engagement with the discussion question and the targeted reading material. It means writing a post that creates a conversation between class members. Sometimes this means a paragraph or two, but not always. Longer is not always better, especially if a student “pads” their comments. In most of my classes, 75-100 words are sufficient. As a student, you need to show your instructor you understand the course material, but even more important, you want to talk to others about how you feel about the topic, and give others a reason to share their ideas with you.
Usually, writing the main discussion post is not as challenging as figuring out what to say in response to fellow students. The response posts are the place where the real action takes place between students and instructors. By responding to others, you have an opportunity to offer your opinions, and share why you think the way you do about ideas and issues presented by discussion questions. This is where you get to know each other.
Teamwork is the other area where students contribute their own ideas and talents as they work in a small group on projects. Teamwork can present significant challenges, especially when one or two members are stuck with the majority of the project. Teamwork is important. Most jobs require people to work on teams. Teams usually are made up of individuals with different work styles and different skill levels. Even so, a successful team invites input from everyone and finds ways to use each member’s unique talents and ideas. Teamwork at Everest helps prepare students to work as effective team members, making them more invaluable as employees.
I talk to students every day who are frustrated with teamwork but there are things students can do to make teamwork a more enjoyable and successful classroom experience. First, don’t wait for someone else to volunteer as the team leader. Step up at the beginning of the week and communicate with other team members letting them know you will act as team leader. Make sure everyone on the team understands deadlines so the final project isn’t thrown together at the last minute. Be open to communicate often with other members of the team during the week. As the team leader, make sure the final draft of the project is put together early enough for everyone to read the draft and contribute suggestions. This helps ensure the final product is polished and helps the entire team get a good grade. Finally, as a team member, don’t wait until the last minute to get your part of the assignment to the team leader, or worse, don’t be the team member who doesn’t even bother to complete your part of the project.
Never think of discussion posts and teamwork projects as just another task used to get a grade. Enjoy the opportunity to get to know and work with fellow students. Often through discussion and teamwork, students form friendships and add to their network of contacts, which is helpful as you move from being a student to a graduate looking for a job in your new career field.
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© Everest University Online | Written by: Amy Ramirez