Tips From the Pros: Determine What Students Know

Students enter online courses with various levels of knowledge, experience, needs, and expectations. It's important to get a sense of what students already know in order to provide the appropriate levels of support and challenge.

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Students enter online courses with various levels of knowledge, experience, needs, and expectations. It's important to get a sense of what students already know in order to provide the appropriate levels of support and challenge.

The discussion forum provides an excellent opportunity to gauge students' knowledge levels. “If there's a discussion question that's very basic in week one of the course, I can interject some questions that jump ahead,” says Michelle Manganaro, who teaches online education and communications courses at several institutions, including Massasoit Community College. “Maybe some or all of the students already know a lot of things coming up. It helps me benchmark what my other questions will be for the rest of the course. If they already know a lot of the terms, then maybe I can make the conversations more interesting and jump into scenarios that apply the material,” Manganaro says.

More knowledgeable students may tend to answer questions promptly and thoroughly in the discussion board, leaving the others to think they have nothing to add. Rather than jumping ahead, Manganaro recommends backtracking, asking the knowledgeable student(s) to elaborate, provide examples, and simplify concepts.

Even though some students may have more knowledge on a topic, each student brings individual experiences that can add to the conversation. Manganaro requires students to relate the discussion board topic to current events or personal experiences. In addition to improving the quality of participation, this technique also makes the content more relevant to the individual.

Before moving on to the next unit, Manganaro mentions the previous unit and gets benchmark assessments to ensure that students understand the content being covered.