Real-Time Discussions in the Classroom

Real-life situations are currently being discussed all across the web in real-time. This could be anything including RSS feeds, blogs, wikis or social media. The recently launched Google Plus is just one example of how this works. Users can follow news outlets and receive all of their recent updates either through email, text message or on the web itself. As the user is reading the story, people are commenting on it in real-time and providing new opinions but also new facts. Believe it or not, there are a lot of smart people on the forums and commenting systems and those opinions lead to the real-time collaboration. However, sometimes one needs to filter through a lot of other comments that may not add anything new or relevant to the conversation.

As people are posting their opinion and new information to the article, what is actually happening is a collaboration between the author and the readers. The amazing thing about this is that the collaboration is in real-time and includes people that one normally would not interact with. This is much like how a classroom discussion could work in an online class. Having people post comments on an article or on each others opinions can lead to vibrant discussions with people from all over the world collaborating on a forum or comment system. This also leads to deeper learning which is on of the main benefits of online learning. Oldenburg and Hung (2010) suggest that if problems emulate what students are likely to experience in real life, then they are more likely to adopt a deeper approach to the learning. Building upon that, Wheeler (2005) claims that the online students found the solving of real life problems was deeply engaging and one that challenged their own professional practice styles.

So how do you get students commenting on discussions that an instructor starts? First, the information must be relevant to the course and second, the information must be fresh. Google News ( and Google Reader ( are two great example of getting the latest information in real-time. There are other websites out there but personal preference leans towards Google.

With Google Reader, the user can type in words of interest such as “Education Technology” or “Artificial Intelligence”. Google Reader will scan the Internet and when articles have tags that match what the user is interested in, they will appear on the screen. I check my Google Reader in the mornings and usually have 40-60 new articles. Now now all of these are exactly relevant but I am able to scan through quickly to filter what is good and what is not.

Google news works in a similar way except you cannot choose anything too specific to search, just topics in a general sense. The webpage is completely customizable so that you can have news on various topics take up your screen. For example, education or computer science can be topics that you want news displayed about. Just like Google Reader, these are updated in real-time.

For a teacher, this is an easy way to get information all in one place. By using Google Reader, I was able to find many interesting topics on Artificial Intelligence. Each week I took the most interesting ones and posted it onto the forums. I had the students write an opinion piece about it and analyze the article. Feedback from the students was great and I have used this technique for all of my classes since.


Oldenburg, N. L., & Hung, W. (2010). Problem Solving Strategies Used by RN-to-BSN Students in an Online Problem-Based Learning Course. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(4), 219-222. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Wheeler, S., Kelly, P., & Gale, K. (2005). The influence of online problem?based learning on teachers’ professional practice and identity. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 13(2), 125-137. doi:10.1080/09687760500104088

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