HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE SOCRATIC SEMINAR
CREATE THE QUESTIONS
Develop 4-5 provocative, open-ended questions regarding the text or topic you will have the students discuss. Use more or less questions, depending on the subject matter and your needs.
POST THE QUESTIONS
Post all of the questions as separate posts on your blog. I create a separate blog that is dedicated to online discussions, so as not to crowd my regular class blog. This can be done quickly and with little effort on Blogger and other blogging software. Make sure students are invited as authors to the blog.
PROVIDE WARM-UP/THINK TIME
Have a brief face-to-face warm-up conversation with students about the subject matter. You can ask the same questions or merely work around the edges. This gives students time to order their thoughts before having to publish them. I often hand out the questions a day or two ahead of time and encourage students to write out responses and notes beforehand. For my seventh graders, this is essential. Your needs may vary, depending on the grade level you teach.
POST GUIDLINES FOR...POSTING
Provide posting guidelines for students -- a brief checklist of how to behave online during the discussion. For example:
- Post your original, unique thoughts
- Do not merely agree or disagree with a comment without offering concrete reasons
- Support your ideas with specific examples from text or other sources
- Link to other websites when it can help expand the discussion
- Do not use slang or emoticons
- Spend time reading and reflecting on other comments
- Post at least one comment for each question
- Post clarifying questions as well as direct responses
BE A PRESENCE
Join the online discussion as the instructor and help guide, clarify, and provoke deeper discussion as it proceeds.
PROVIDE A RUBRIC/CRITERIA FOR SUCCESS
Give students a rubric that allows them to know what is expected of them in terms of quality. Make the rubric straightforward and easy to understand for the students. It should be equally useful for the instructor and the students. For the instructor, it enables data collection and accountability; for the students it should provide a road map for how to succeed.
ANALYZE THE RESULTS
After you do these things, sit back and take time to analyze the results. You will have probably tripled or quadrupled the amount of responses possible in a face to face Socratic Seminar. Students can continue the conversation for homework if you wish. You will be surprised by reticent and shy students who normally remain silent in class but suddenly have a lot to say. You will have time to review and analyze the responses carefully, rather than having to guide the conversation and assess at the same time, as in a traditional seminar. You will see the democratizing effect an online discussion has.