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Groupwork online, no matter what the subject, must be carefully crafted,
coached and valued.

It is not enough to tell students that they must "discuss" online. The
assignment and parameters must be well thought out and one of the criteria
must be "engaging", whether it is discussion questions along the lines of a
particular reading or peer editing of papers. In discussion questions on
readings, I found that I needed a "catalyst" question, something that would
get students talking, not necessarily about the writing. Once they got
"talking", then we could work towards looking at the craft of writing.

Coaching needs to be continual. I did this online in the background, but
sending private messages to those who were on track in support of what they
were doing, as well as those who were only half way there, asking them
clarifying questions. For some students, I needed to help them articulate
their thoughts in a private side conversation, before they could post their
ideas.  If the charge was a critique of the writing, then I made each student
an "unofficial" expert. I would give them a writing strategy with a
definition and example that they were to pursue on the other students'
papers. That way everyone in the public conversation looked like they had an
expertese. This way they could teach each other with some validity. (Note:
this listen more to each other than they do to "the English teacher!")

Finally, discussion must be VALUED.  Currently the students are still in the
grades paradigm, so points must be allotted to this activity. No points = no
value in the student's mind.

Lucy MacDonald
Online Writing Faculty sinc 1992 BW (before WEb!)
Chemeketa Community College