Post Once, Reply Twice… But Why?

Post Once, Reply Twice… But Why?

January 6, 2023 Off By JR

This one is from the IDD Blog from the Center for Teaching and Learning at DePaul University.

At some point–even prior to the start of COVID-19–most online instructors have relied on the ‘Post Once, Reply Twice’ formula for their online discussions. It is unclear where this formula originated, but like the Pot Roast Principle, there is no real reason we need to be bound by it. Discussions remain a pain point for most online instructors, so what can be done? How do we make our online discussions something students want to engage in? What alternatives exist?

Post once, reply twice goes back to the early days of online learning. Years ago I tried to dig out the origin and mostly just found old CTL web pages from the late 90s/early 2000s with no definitive origin. If you have an origin location, I’d love to see it. Many critics use this format as a punch line, and I agree it’s not optimal, but if it’s all you have, especially in a shift to emergency remote teaching, it can serve as a stepping stone to something more. The blog post serves up alternatives to discussion boards as accountability but does so in a way that suggests dropping discussions entirely from courses which didn’t sit well with me. They are:

  • Q&A Polls
  • Social Annotation
  • Quizzes

They go on to say if you must keep discussions, some strategies for discussion boards include:

  • Clarify expectations
  • Offer options
  • Encourage collegiality
  • Use @ mentions
  • Keep being creative

Overall, as much as people seem to shame online discussions, I’ve done plenty of classroom observations in “discussion-based courses” that weren’t any better. This is one of the reasons I lean on Stephen Brookfield’s work, which largely was built for face-to-face classes but transfers online quite well. Discussions online are heavily influenced by the tool (usually an LMS) and even the word “discussion.” But considering it as a forum rather than a discussion, we can branch out to things like Q&A, coffee row, and other less formal options for learners.

Laura St. Pierre created the chain reaction format for her ART110 course. The first student in the forum replies to the original prompt and ends their post with another question. The next student answers that question and poses their own. It goes on and on from there. One of the keys to success here is that this specific format is only used a few times in the course.

A major downfall of post once, reply twice is having 12 weekly discussions in exactly the same format. However, if you’re considering having a different format every week, you will encounter different problems.

In Community Development Practices, Bob Regnier and I took his writing project and leveraged the discussion forums for peer review activities. If you do peer review using any of the major LMSs in higher education, you know that these tools suck. At the time of this project, it was BBL classic experience. Sorry if the mention of that system and tool opens old scars. Anyway, students came to the forums to share their project work, ask for specific feedback, and provide feedback. This went for four rounds over the duration of the course and, compared to the face-to-face version, resulted in significantly improved work from the students. Bob was pleasantly surprised.

Those are just two examples of different things you can do with discussions. One idea I never had takers on was actually making a discussion-based course. Using Canvas, the discussion prompt is basically a page with a comments section attached (like WordPress and much of the web!). The idea was to mimic the FutureLearn setup a little by having every page include the comments section. It would have to be tailored to the specific course, but I think there is so much potential there.

Check out Stephen Brookfield’s work for more discussion ideas, why discussions fail, and what to do about it. You won’t be disappointed.

via IDDblog: Instructional Design Tips, Advice, & Trends for Online & Distance Learning, Direct Link

Photo by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash