Discussions for Deeper Processing

“What is it weakest part of your online or blended course?” is a question I have posed to faculty who teach online. A synopsis of one of the most commonly encountered answers is:

I’m afraid my students feel the same about my discussions as I do. They post and respond, and I tell them “say more than ‘I agree,'” but they just seem to come up with longer ways to agree. These seem to be hoops we jump through rather than dialogue that helps us learn.

anonymous respondent to our question

In response, I have been using the concept deeper processing to guide faculty as we rewrite discussion prompts. My idea is is grounded in Craik and Lockhart (1972), who find depth “implies a greater degree of semantic or cognitive analysis” (p. 672) and I concur with conclusion that deeper processing leads to better learning in terms of what is remembered and one’s ability to use what it is learned for a variety of purposes.

Figure 1: Framework of processing

As one looks at the prompts used to elicit responses from students, it becomes quickly obvious that most seek reactions; student can participate in the discussion by articulating agreement or by commenting on a section that resonates with the student. Another commonly observed prompts seeks additional information’ students participate by sharing facts or details, but not interpretation.

As I revisr discussion activities with faculty, we try to define both prompts and prompts for responses that require:

  • Integration
    (How does this connect to what we already know?)
  • Distinction
    (How is this similar to or different from what we already know?)
  • Elaboration
    (What new questions arise?)
  • Application
    (How can we use this to frame, understand, solve problems?)
  • Interpretation
    (How does this help us understand personal experiences?)