100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

Debating  is a really useful way of enhancing learning, whether it be a formalised classroom debate, or an informal discussion arising from a presentation or a video.

How many though consider the needs of different learners and learning styles when organising debates? Some learners are reflective and they need to time to think and reflect on the debate. Some learners may be working or on online courses won’t be able to join a face to face debate.

A live debate using a chat facility on the VLE is one option that facilitates a debate in a way which allows quieter learners to contribute. A live online chat facility is a useful tool, and as the VLE itself handles the authentication process, learners needn’t worry about creating new user accounts or remembering passwords for when chat is used.

A moderator (or chair) may want to be appointed to allow learners an opportunity to make their point, to avoid the chat becoming a free for all. This is similar to the role of chair during a face to face debate.

Another way of undertaking a debate on the VLE is through a discussion forum. As with the chat, the VLE itself handles the authentication process, again learners needn’t worry about creating new user accounts or remembering passwords. In many ways this can be a different debating experience with the opportunity for all learners to make their point.

You may want to indicate how long the learners have to make their points (over a week for example) and close the debate with learners making a summary of the debate’s key points.

It is not an either or situation, it’s not about having just online debates in the same way as it is not just about having all face to face debates, it’s much more about allowing a range of debates using different mediums to reflect the different needs and learning styles of different learners.

Online debates are not difficult, but do require (in the same way that a face to face debates do) some planning and facilitation. It also helps if you try out a debate as a user first.

First you need to decide on a motion and nominating specific learners to put forward a view that supports the motion and learners to argue against the motion.

You may also need to put down some guidelines on how the learners should participate to ensure that the debate doesn’t degenerate into personal attacks. Also you may want to provide guidance on how learners should participate and what expectations  you have for those learners.

Debates are a great way of discussing topics in many subjects, an online debate on the VLE is just one way in which this can be facilitated.

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