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Online Discussions - Interview with Dr. Wrobbel

October 17, 2017

By Emily Keener (Instructional Design & Learning Technologies)

Last week’s Midweek Mentor topic was on effective questioning strategies for online discussions. Dr. Jean Mandernach of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University suggested several components that lead to good online discussions: meaningful prompts, effective facilitation, and an organized classroom environment. (If you haven’t watched Jean’s 20-minute mentor video, be sure to check it out in the Mentor Commons!)

For faculty just getting started with online teaching, it can be refreshing to hear from someone who’s been down a similar path. In the interview to follow, Dr. Eric “Duff” Wrobbel, Professor and Department Chair of Applied Communication Studies, shares with us his early experiences with online discussions. Duff has taught more than 22 different courses at SIUE and has been honored with the SIUE Alumni Association’s Great Teacher Award. So, his passion for teaching is not new, even though his journey into online learning may be. Read on for more on Duff’s experiences in the realm of online discussions and share your thoughts below.


EK: What did you think about online discussions before teaching online vs now? Any changes, for better or worse?

DW: I suppose I presumed they would mostly be quite shallow and repetitive, and generally gratuitous.  I have made a complete 180° on this now.

EK: What obstacles did you encounter in an online discussion that you might not have faced in the physical classroom?

DW: Well, keeping up with the volume is more challenging.  A classroom discussion is a single stream, and the online discussions, since ALL students participate, are more sprawling.  Also, most of the online ones happen without my participation since my classes thus far have not been synchronous, so I just miss being part of the discussion.

EK: What opportunities did you discover in the online discussion? 

DW: But if you consider what I just wrote in #2, I do think my absence from the discussions has some advantages.  I hate to think that I “steer” discussions, but I’m sure I do, and I am sure that students quickly figure out what I do and do not like to hear, and that at least some of them bend their views to try to fit mine.  I think this happens far less online.

EK: What tools or tricks helped your online discussions go more smoothly? 

DW: I still work off paper rubrics. I make a “packet” for each student and can write all kinds of notes for my own use on them as I review each student’s work.  After I am done reviewing a given student’s work, I look back over what I wrote and select 1-2 things to comment on.  I find that forcing myself to do this in 2 stages insures that I have something good to add, but limits how much I ramble - something I am inclined toward when teaching face-to-face.

EK: What would you do differently in your next online class to make discussions run more smoothly?

DW: Make needed changes and adjustments immediately, rather than waiting until next time you teach the same class.  I taught a class for the second time using the same shell, and had forgotten several of the things I meant to change before I re-ran the class.  As a result, I made the same mistakes twice, which was frustrating.

EK: What advice would you give faculty who are new to online discussions?

DW: Trust your ITS Instructional Designer.  Listen to your ITS Instructional Designer.  Cherish your ITS Instructional Designer.

EK: I didn’t edit in that response, I promise!

If you are looking for more ideas on how to structure your online discussions, download some of these discussion board resources. And, of course, reach out to your ITS Instructional Designer anytime at idlt_center@siue.edu or 618-650-5500.

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