Proverbs 23:12a Apply your heart to instruction.

Add some Muddy-and-Clear Discussions to your Online Course
In Fall, 2014, I became part of the October Cohort in the Online Learning Consortium’s Advance Teaching Certificate program. Our Facilitator was Dr. Laurie Hillstock. Many are the valuable lessons gleaned from the workshop. This post focuses on just one exciting development relating to online discussions.
In many of my online courses I have included in the final weeks a forum dedicated to the best and worst discussion forums or topics. Dr. Hillstock introduced the idea of using “clear-and-muddy” discussions within class to garner student feedback. I was intrigued and wanted to introduce this new variation on the discussion into my class. When I did, I was rewarded with a wonderful surprise.
I chose to introduce about five clear-and-muddy discussions into the class I was teaching in Spring, 2015: Logic and Thinking. These discussions were introduced about every other week, and they were designed to allow students to respond by telling peers and the instructor what they found to be muddy or clear when studying an assigned topic. Two topics we covered were metaphorical thinking and formal logic.
Two quotes are chosen from the discussions. The first comes from the clear-and-muddy discussion about metaphors. The second comes from the clear-and-muddy discussion about formal logic.

  1. So far mostly everything that we have went over was clear. If I could choose something that was muddy, it would probably be the metaphor. Although I am used to metaphors and hear them quite often, especially in certain genres of music, I myself found it to be quite hard with coming up with my own metaphors which led me to use some I already am familiar with. I like how the creativity forum gets us to thinking. I also liked brainstorming on homelessness because for me, I was reminded of free writing.
  2. The Syllogisms forum was a little muddy starting; however after reviewing the examples in the power point things became more clear….

I want to call special attention to the second quote. The student reports that in the beginning her study of syllogisms was muddy, but later it became clear. This was not an isolated phenomenon. “Golden” is how our facilitator referred to some thoughts or ideas, and I must say this was a golden discovery. The clear-and-muddy forum was acting as a prompt to allow students to report how they were becoming familiar with the unfamiliar or how they were becoming clear about some previously confusing topic. The student worked it out. That is spontaneous. That is metacognition. That is golden.
Will I include clear-and-muddy discussions in an upcoming online class? I hope so. Will I encourage others to use the clear-and-muddy discussion technique? Yes, definitely. Will I say my time spent in the OLC certification program was worthwhile? You bet.

A muddy trail

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