UMS Faculty Focus Blog

UMS Faculty Focus

The UMS Faculty Focus blog publishes articles on effective teaching strategies for technology-enhanced, classroom, online, blended, or flipped learning experiences.  Faculty e-Learning Grant recipients and other UMS faculty are welcome to contribute. Please contact the UC Faculty Development Center if you are interested in writing an article for UMS Faculty Focus at


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Be not a Troll nor a Slug?

One of the most exciting aspects of my graduate school experience was the level of discussion and sometimes, the arguments we indulged in, in our seminars. They were loud and passionate, sometimes rowdy.  Those discussions were also respectful and constructive, at least for the most part. 

That was learning in action for me!

What I want with my online or hybrid classes is to engage the students in an intense discussion that will utilize their critical thinking facilities so that we may all learn something more than we knew before.

How to do that when the "discussion" is online. Or in the case of a hybrid class, the class does not engage F2F with each other enough to feel safe and confident in expressing their thoughts?

I have noticed that students are "shy," or hesitant to express their ideas or thoughts on various subjects to others in the class. They will readily agree with any interpretation that is offered by the teacher, or they will sit mutely for the most part. 

In their writing up of assignments for me, there is a freeing up of their "voice," sometimes sharing very moving and personal insights or thoughts. Yet in class, or discussion this "voice" is muted again. 

In the "Discussion" boards on Blackboard, there is often a feeling of mandatory obligation in the level of discourse. If I ask for the student to post an original post and reply to two other students, there is often little or no engagement. They simply post a thought or idea about the assignment and respond with cursory insight to two different posts. 
No back and forth, no interruptions, no attempts at persuasion!

 My conundrum and my quest are to free up that "voice " they have when writing, and expand the feeling of safety to include the online discussion portion of the class. 

There are unfortunately few examples in social media that offer respectful discourse for them to practice that muscle. They read the caustic and hurtful trolling that occurs to everyone who posts their thoughts and ideas for the world to see. 
The message that one needs to be careful and keep a low profile does not help to learn how to exchange ideas and thoughts, to disagree even to be passionate about those held opinions but to remain civil and respectful.

I think the online teaching community is working on this, at least I hope so because it is vitally important for the future of our ability to be educated and useful citizens of this country. 

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Timothy Surrette
Hi Karen,

I'm very interested in the topic of student engagement / academic discourse in online forums. Check out my UC Faculty Blog posts from 11/2; 11/30; 12/31. Each of these posts directly addresses this topic --- please feel free to send me questions via email ( or comment on any of my posts with questions.

Take care,
Posted on 3/7/18 2:56 PM.
Anne Fensie
Karen, you bring up a really good point. How do patterns of communication in social media affect student participation in online discourse? When I was first participating in online discussions (18 years ago), social media did not exist and we had a different set of social conventions around expression and respect for other opinions. As our culture has moved online more, it is easy to see in social media how this is no longer the case--it's so easy to say things online that you wouldn't say to someone's face, and those negative interactions have become so commonplace, that people have learned to self-protect like you mentioned--by staying low. How do we get students to engage differently in online discourse in a course so they don't bring their social media experiences or expectations into the online classroom?
Posted on 4/2/18 9:17 AM.