Link and Think

By Thomas Royce Wilson, PhD

Overview: The following article discusses a strategy for facilitating deep learning in online discussion forums.


The Link & Think Discussion Strategy

Over the years, I have developed an approach to facilitating online discussions that I call Link & Think. The strategy energizes interactions, fosters deep thinking, and it receives positive reviews from online faculty who take my training courses. Here’s how it works…

Step 1: Read the student’s post.

Mary’s Post:

My most interesting discovery this week has come from comparing the philosophy of Hugo (the grotesque) versus the philosophy of Jameson (beauty of holiness). Hugo not only portrays the grotesque as unnatural, disturbing, and surprising, but he also addresses the comical side of grotesque, which I find intriguing. On the other hand, Jameson’s philosophy about the beauty of holiness considers everything under and from heaven as beauty. Like Jameson, I look for beauty in everything, but I agree with Hugo that the grotesque does pique my curiosity.

Step 2: “Link” to the student.

In your response, link your post specifically to the student’s name. Personalizing the post creates a connection with the student, and it’s our connections that build community. In the example below, bold red lettering indicates the language that directly links to Mary, the student.

You will not be addressing the student directly. Rather, you will mention the student’s name as you discuss what she has written.

Mary

Step 3: “Link” to specific content.

Reference specific content from the student’s post. The example below uses red letters to indicate the wording that mirrors the student’s ideas. In your paraphrase, try to use key words from your student’s post. In this example response, “beauty” and “grotesque” are the key words that link the faculty response to the student post. When feasible, including brief, direct quotations to strengthen the link even more .

Mary acknowledges the struggle between our longing for beauty and our morbid curiosity about the eerie and grotesque.

When you explicitly link your response to details extracted from the student’s post, you show all students that you care enough to actually read what they write. That builds community in an online classroom. When students know that an instructor will be reading and commenting on details of their posts, they tend to write more thoughtfully.  

Step 4: Add the “Think” component.

The Think component of your response is an open-ended question that prompts student to engage in deeper thought about the subject. Instead of you telling them what you think, you make them to do the thinking. This is where you prompt students to “dig deeper” for solutions, hypotheses, additional information, or more questions. In the example below, the red wording identifies the language that requires students to think. You’ll see that several probing questions provide students choices for responding.

Mary acknowledges the struggle between our longing for beauty and our morbid curiosity about the eerie and grotesque. Who can tell us how the views of ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle compare to those of Hugo and Jameson? What about more recent thinkers like Kant and Freud? Are there common themes? How do they differ from each other and from your personal view?

Step 5: Invite others to engage.

We must encourage other students to join the conversation. In Step 4, the words,”Who can tell us….” opened the discussion up to others. In Step 5, the invitation concludes with a call to action. In the excerpt below, red letters indicate the wording that invites students to engage in this conversation.

Mary alludes to the struggle between our longing for beauty and our morbid curiosity about the eerie and grotesque. Who can tell us how the views of ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle compare to those of Hugo and Jameson? What about more recent thinkers like Kant and Freud? Are there common themes? How do they differ from each other and from your personal view?  I look forward to seeing the responses of others regarding this philosophical tug-of-war, and I’m curious to see the range of personal perspectives.

As you repeat this process back and forth with subsequent interactions and additional probing questions, more students will engage. In addition to fostering genuine conversations, the Link & Think approach supports critical thinking, and it encourages students to conduct additional research to support their arguments.

Copyright © 2019 by Thomas Royce Wilson

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