Increasing Low-Stakes Discussions

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01.Sweetgreen.LoganCircle.1471P.NW.WDC.28April2011 by Elvert Barnes on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA licenseThis summer, I plan to work on structures and resources to improve the online discussions in my writing courses. Last week, I talked about Improving Online Discussion with More Preparation. This week, I’m concentrating on some of the discussions themselves.

Several of the class discussion topics were low-stakes activities. For instance, students posted a professional bio and discussed four infographics early in the term. This work was graded on completion. As long as students put in the effort and did the work, they got points in their weekly activity grade. I also included optional discussion topics, like my AMA discussion, which many students participated in.

After that first week, however, I turned to the specifics of the major writing assignments. Students had little motivation to chat beyond answering specific questions about their writing strategies and progress. As a result, I think I harmed the community building that was underway. Next time, I want to include more low-stakes discussion opportunities to engage students, and I want these discussions to last through the term.

I found an infographic on 10 Tips To Make Slack Even Better For Your Company that inspired me to add these semester-long channels to the Slack team next term:

  • #suggestions—for improving the course
  • #kudos—for praising anyone in the course
  • #extrapeerreview—for feedback outside of writing groups
  • #resourceshare—for links or details on professional writing how-to’s and advice
  • #inspire—for examples and things you wish you made
  • #hokiespirit—for discussion of campus events, athletics, etc.

The conversations in these channels will be open to everyone I am teaching. The other discussions that students participate in will be small writing-group discussions, where students work together to improve their own writing and collaborate on group documents.


I am also thinking of adding a #dailycreate channel, modeled on the assignment in ds106 courses. My idea is to give students a daily workplace challenge to respond to. Of course, my worry is that it is a DAILY create. Can I come up with enough prompts for every day? While I try to figure out the answer, what suggestions do you have for on-going, low-stakes discussions? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.

Photo Credit: 01.Sweetgreen.LoganCircle.1471P.NW.WDC.28April2011 by Elvert Barnes on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA license

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.