I’ve been teaching a large online class for the first time this semester, and as the course involves looking at a number of challenge interactive works and games I put a lot of emphasis on discussion forums and critical debate. However, discussion forums of this kind present a lot of potential problems in an online class. We only have to read the comments anywhere on the web (pro tip: don’t actually read the comments) to see that the online medium offers huge potential for miscommunication, personal attacks, trolling, and harassment–even when in the space of a virtual classroom.
Obviously, disruptive students aren’t unique to online discussions (Billie Hara profiled several types of classroom challenges previously), but managing an online discussion poses a very different challenge for a professor. I read everything posted on course discussion forums by my 130 students, but I can’t do it in real time: it’s often several days or a full week later by my review. At that point, if a student has made an inappropriate remark or worse an outright attack on a student, it’s too late to interrupt or handle the problem in real-time the way I would in a classroom. This means I’ll often come across something in grading that I would never have let pass in a traditional class, and I have to determine what to do after the fact. Many online venues (including this one) usemoderation of comments and discussion to stop problems early on. That can significantly slow down an online course, particularly when there are no assigned moderators. <Read more.>