I have been teaching and learning online for more than 15 years. It is my preferred method of learning because it exploits student-to-student dialogue in an exchange of ideas and opinions. In learning cohorts, there is a struggle between advocacy and inquiry – the former usually wins, unless we can stimulate productive exchange through dialogue.
In verbal dialogue, participants often begin to construct a response before they fully apprehend what they are hearing. In live discourse, we are artificially self-prompted for quick response. We hate dead air!
In a practice we call dialogue-intensive learning, we compose our retorts in writing which we can re-read and edited before pushing the send button—a luxury too often overtaken by impulse.
In an asynchronous, by setting expectations the dialogue can swing to inquiry allowing the discourse to dig deeper into the issue. Questions become the catalyst for the exchange.
I have found that by setting rules, we can move participants to meaningful exchange. They are simple: (a) limit your post to 100 words. This causes the writer to edit and sharpen her intended meaning which makes it manageable for members to absorb many posts that may occur in a cohort of 7-8 learners, as well as prepare cogent replies; (b) each post must have a singular focus on the assertion being made; and (c) assertions must be supported with citations from the course materials or personal anecdotal experiences.
Ment.io elegantly drives meaningful dialogue for this style of learning. It is based on questions and imposes a score for which participants subconsciously endeavor to achieve. All that provides the instructor a means to draw together the learning from the dialogue in the Discussion Recap.
Having used this tool for the last four classes online, I am pleasantly surprised how many students credit Ment.io for enlivening their online discussions.