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The Study Hall

Structure Online Discussions for Better Engagement 

Multiple Due Dates Encourage Thoughtful Responses

This fall will be a challenging one for students and instructors who will be coming together in new and virtual classroom environments to go about the business of learning. Many instructors and students will be relying on online discussion forums as a way to engage with each other safely and consistently. 

Online discussion forums work best when instructors are able to encourage students to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to each other’s ideas. To do that, instructors often ask students to respond to a prompt, comment on a few responses by their classmates, and, in a perfect world, comment on any responses their own post generates. 

It’s a perfectly reasonable way to ensure an engaging exchange of ideas in an online forum. 

But here’s the catch: In most online discussion platforms, a “discussion” is a single assignment with a single due date. Even when expectations for participation are spelled out in a grading rubric, students still manage to wait until the last possible minute before posting their initial response to a prompt. Because students are students. (Hey, we’re not judging. We were all students once.)

This can create problems—for students and for instructors. When a critical mass of students waits till the last minute, thoughtful and considered discussion isn’t likely to happen. Responses will be hurried, off the cuff, and often off the mark. For instructors who like to review comments early, it’s a headache to manage in the wee hours of the morning. And grading can be a nightmare as instructors try to create workarounds outside of the gradebook that are both time-consuming and error prone. 

Harmonize Supports Multiple Due Dates 

Instructors who use Harmonize, a robust, media-rich discussion board that can be used directly from Canvas, can assign any number of completion requirements to a single discussion topic and assign due dates to each of those requirements. 

That means an instructor could, for example, require a specific number of:

  •  Posts on a topic
  • Comments on a post
  • Replies to comments
  • “Reactions” to posts or comments
     

Due dates can be assigned to each (by an instructor or by the institution or department). For example, as part of a weekly discussion that begins on a Monday, an instructor can ask each student to:

  • Write their initial post by Wednesday of each week
  • Comment on posts by two classmates by 11:59 p.m. Sunday


With Harmonize, instructors can easily define all of these expectations. Requirements display right at the top of a student’s screen, a clear reminder of what needs to be done by when. (Instructors will see a similar legend at the top of their screens, where they can track the progress students are making on their assignments.) When it’s time for instructors to grade the assignment, all of that activity is automatically displayed. Instructors simply refer to their grading rubrics and assign a grade. 

 At Harmonize, we’re working to elevate how learning happens by providing online tools to help students engage more authentically and instructors teach more effectively. If you’re interested in how Harmonize can help your institution deliver great teaching and learning support this fall, please contact us. 

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