Facilitating problem based discussions online

Gail Hunger, Instructional Designer
A&S Learning Design and Technology

Facilitating problem based discussions online

George Polya (How to Solve It) states, “The instructor should put themselves in the student’s place, they should see the student’s case, they should try to understand what is going on in the student’s mind, and ask a question to indicate a step that could have occurred to the student.”

Encouraging problem solving in an in-person class is challenging, to say the least. Facilitating this in an online environment is even more so, as we have to have students to turn on their microphone and share their whiteboard to explain their thinking. Asking students if they understand usually results In a one word answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The question is, “How do we get a more in depth conversation in the online environment?” While there are many ways to answer this question, I would recommend using probing questions. The following questions can serve as a guide to facilitate problem based learning:

Questions that ask for more evidence:

  1. How do you know that?
  2. Where is it stated in the question-how did you know to do that?

Questions that ask for clarification:

  1. What strategy did you use?
  2. Can you state that another way?

Questions that ask students to summarize and synthesize:

  1. What are one or two of the most important ideas (strategies) that emerged from this discussion?
  2. What do you understand better as a result of today’s session?
  3. Based on our discussion today, what do we need to talk about next time to better understand this type of problem better?
  4. Based on your experience today, what types of problems do you need to re-work on your own and/or ask your professor about?

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