Facilitating discussions requires the instructors to be very engaged to enable virtual students to communicate effectively with each other. In a face-to-face classroom setting it is easier to get students involved in a discussion; in a virtual classroom – it takes stronger facilitation skills.
For example, in a face-to-face classroom, an instructor might ask students their thoughts on a case study they read in the text. The question may be as simple as, “What did you find most valuable about the case study you analyzed in Chapter 5 of the text?” Students will raise their hands and/or begin to share their response to the question. However, in a virtual environment, simply asking the question does not suffice. As the facilitator you need to engage the students a bit more. For example, the same question may be asked as follows in a virtual classroom environment, “If you learned something valuable that you might apply to your job from the case study you analyzed in Chapter 5 of the text, please click on the Raise Hand button to share it with the class” Then, when someone has clicked on that button, ask the follow up question, “Jack, what did you find most valuable about the case study?” You might then ask if anyone in the class has any question for Jack and if so to add it to the Chat window. In this way, you are facilitating a discussion among the participants.
When I teach virtual classes, I track who participants in each session. In this way, I can reach out to less frequent participants to get their thoughts on a topic. If I don’t want them to feel put on the spot, I might phrase a question as, “Would someone who hasn’t shared much this evening like to tell us what they found of most value in our class session?” Or, I might ask the question, “Allison, last week you shared a story about a challenge at work that you were going to address based on suggestions from the class, how did that discussion work out?”
As the facilitator, I may participate to help get the conversation moving along. For example, if I ask students what they found most interesting about an article they read, I may start off by telling them what I found most interesting about the article. This gives students something to respond to and then provides them a start to their own discussion.
At the end of your virtual classroom session, thank students for their comments and thoughts to encourage them to contribute more in the future. I want to encourage students to use the tools in the virtual classroom to facilitate discussions and sharing of information.