LogisticsI'm using Canvas Discussions, since Canvas is our LMS. There is a standard cadence for students in the class. Every week they are given a set of readings/lectures to read/watch. Students are asked to read them before writing their discussion post, which is due by midnight on Wednesday. They are then asked to comment on two other posts by midnight on Friday. They also have a related assignment due by midnight on Friday. Then the whole cycle begins again.
Discussion PromptWhen I was in 8th grade, my English teacher had us each write the first sentence of a short story. Then, he put our sentences into a hat, mixed them up, and had us each pick out a sentence that we used to write our own short story. One of the points he was trying to make is that a students' creativity can be limited by a boring prompt. (As I recall, the prompt I received was quite boring but I turned it into a story about Imelda Marcos' shoes. Very on brand.)
Having learned my lesson in 8th grade, I try to make discussion prompts engaging. Also, since this is an on-line class, it's an opportunity to ask students to engage with the material in ways they wouldn't for a normal in-class discussion. So skip the simple questions. Here were the prompts for my first couple of discussion assignments:
Week 1: Introductions/Ice Breaker
This discussion was the first assignment students did for class. They were encouraged to create a video because one of the options for their final project was a recorded presentation. This discussion helped create a sense of community, but also introduced the discussion cadence to the students.
Tell the rest of the class something about the following:
- your name (include nicknames and pronouns if you wish)
- your background related to the course topic (this can be anything from "I'm a Biochem major" to "I have my grandmother's patented chicken soup recipe -- guaranteed to cure anything!"
- your goals for the class (again, this can be anything from "I just needed some credits" to "I'm desperate to make meaning out of life with Covid-19")
- information about why infectious disease is personally important to you. IMPORTANT: For this topic or any other, you are not required to share anything personal that you do not wish to share. If you would prefer not to talk about one or more of these topics, that is fine. Instead, please share something non-personal. For example, if you do not want to talk about the time your sister got sick with measles, perhaps you could share an example of disease from a book or movie that particularly stuck with you.
Week 2: Presenting A Disease Case Study
Most weeks, the students started their discussions by presenting a case study in disease that they gleaned either from the textbooks or from peer-reviewed research. This allowed students to apply the anthropological perspective they were taught in class, and at the same time they learned about a wider variety of disease case studies than I could present in my lectures/readings alone. Furthermore, these discussions built skills they would need for the class (such as finding appropriate literature, summarizing the anthropological perspective on disease, etc.) while building community.
Look through the index for the Oldstone book or the McElroy and Townsend book. Choose one example of a disease outbreak from these sources. (You may choose a different source, but please make sure you ask me for permission first.)
Posting: For this week's discussion post about your chosen disease outbreak including the following information:
- A short summary of the outbreak. Be sure to include "who, what, where, when, how" in your explanation. Do not assume anyone reading your post has any knowledge about the disease or the place and time where it broke out. When I say "short summary", here and throughout this assignment, I mean write no more than 100 words. You will have to be brief and incomplete, so focus on the most important information and choose each word carefully to make the most of the space you have.
- A short summary of the cultural context in which the disease broke out. What factors in people's lifestyles, governance, health practices, religious beliefs, etc., either increased or decreased the likelihood of the disease breaking out and spreading where and when it did.
- A short summary of the ecological context in which the disease broke out. What factors in the climate, local environment, season, landscape, etc., either increased or decreased the likelihood of the disease breaking out and spreading where and when it did.
- A short summary of the epidemiological context in which the disease broke out. What about the virus or bacteria or parasite responsible, such as the way it spreads from host to host, the way it affects the immune system, etc., either increased or decreased the likelihood of the disease breaking out and spreading where and when it did.
- The post is worth 7 of the 10 total points for discussion this week.
Requiring DialogueStudents posted their discussion content by Wednesday at midnight, and they were required to then comment on at least two other students' posts by Friday at midnight. Although students weren't actually required to respond to questions that other students posed in their comments, most did. Some good conversations occurred in the discussions. I believe two factors mostly account for this: 1) because students were presenting case studies, they were the class experts on their topic, so they were ready to answer questions; and 2) they were given points based on the type of comments they posted, which helped them to understand the value of different types of discussion.
Comments will be graded as follows:
- 0.5 point for Community-building comments. Community-building posts are positive and affirmative comments, such as "I like your example!", or "Well done!", or "Thanks for sharing!". These are nice things to say to others, but don't really move the conversation along, so you only receive half a point.
- 1 point for Inquiries. Inquiries are questions that come directly from the post itself, without bringing in any outside knowledge or ideas. Inquiries could include comments like "Can you define what the author meant by 'illness' in this context?" or "I'm not sure I agree with the author because I don't think that her conclusion X follows logically from the data Y that you mention."
- 3 points for Connection-building comments. Connection-building comments are those that bring in outside knowledge or perspectives to further the conversation. These may include everything from "The article you read this week is similar to mine in that both authors discuss the importance of understanding socio-economic factors in the spread of disease, but in my article the author also points out..", to "As an art history major, your post reminded me of a painting by Van Gough that shows the importance of..."
- 3 out of 10 points for this discussion are from your comments, and you can earn extra points by doing extra comments. (That is, if you do a number of excellent comments, you may earn more than 10 points. But if I feel that you are making nuisance comments, I will dock your grade.)
FeedbackA wonderful colleague in History, whose teaching I would love to emulate, told me about the importance of "intrusiveness" when teaching on-line. During discussions I tried to be more "present" than I would have, necessarily, in a classroom. In other words, less of a moderator and more of an active part of the conversation. As students posted to the discussion during the week, I would jump on and ask or answer questions, add in context, point them toward related topics they may find interesting.
Grading is also an important part of feedback. Any of my students will tell you that timely grading is my Achilles's heel. With online classes, I'm really pushing myself to get the grading done ASAP. I, personally, find rubrics help me to grade more quickly. For what it's worth, here's the rubric I used for most of the discussions:
Summary included who, what, where, why, and how. Someone who had not read the article would know the basic outline and main points.
Student showed an understanding of the anthropological perspective or lens as applied to this case
0.5 points for community-building, 1 point for inquiries, 3 points for connection-building comments