Here is what classmate N. responded:
I completely agree with you and I do not see why grading participation is so important. Obviously the ultimate goal is to teach the topics covered in a course effectively by enforcing critical thinking. As long as a student demonstrates that he/she has learned the topics introduced through his/her performace in exams and assignments why we should force an individual to participate in a discussion by assigning grades to participation. I think having a forum to exchange ideas is helpful but a lot of people can learn without participating or by passive participation (by just reading the posts that interests him/her) in a discussion group. My approach would be to provide all the learning tools available to the students and let them choose the most effective method themselves. As instructors our job is to measure the outcome.
To that, classmate J. responded:
I don't see that there are any secrets to the educational process. Students must interact with certain amounts of information in order to make it their own. Participation has been proven to improve the levels of comprehension and absorption for the kinds of things most graduate students are expected to learn in their programs. Yes there are some things that we can learn the first time we see or hear them, but most things take time. Maybe I miss the point of this discussion but some of this is the reason I think I will always prefer the face to face discussions for some subjects.
Here's what I wrote back:
The real issue is that the educational process is so variable. We can design, design, design to get effective educational materials and activities for our instruction, but we still can't account for the variability in humans as learners. We can design multiple entry points into the instruction (audio, video, verbal, etc.), but we'll still never hit all the learners.
As for your comment that "participation has been proven to improve the levels of comprehension and absorption for the kinds of things most graduate students are expected to learn in their programs," I'm gonna disagree with you on that, but it could just be semantics.
When I teach my instructional design courses, I spend an entire day discussing the question "what is the difference between information and instruction?" Answers are all over the place. Most instructors think they are providing instructional activities to their students, but in reality they are just disseminating information; they are regurgitating content. The difference between information and instruction is the ability to practice. Instruction will involve the ability for the learner to practice and receive feedback. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote on just that topic, with an example of what a grad student response to the question might be (mine from grad school is posted there).
If you take your quote and change it to "PRACTICE has been proven to improve the levels of comprehension and absorption for the kinds of things most graduate students are expected to learn in their programs", then I'd agree (thus my assertion that we just might be disagreeing on semantics.) Otherwise, I think your comment is an overgeneralization. Content is too variable.
I do agree with you that some content lends itself better for face to face instruction. Even as an instructional designer and educational technologist, I don't think everything should be taught online. It just doesn't work. Once I was an instructional designer for an online college algebra class. It was the hardest thing I've ever designed. The technology we have today wasn't available, and it was a nightmare. Now, with that said, online components and simulations can ENHANCE face to face instruction (as can be seen with this story about brain surgeons practicing on virtual brains), but I still want my doctors and pilots to have practiced and learned on someone else before I need their services.
So what do y'all think?