TED Tips – Issue 5: Inspiration for Discussion

 I want to start this week with a thought exercise. 

Rank the importance of the following free internet services.  What is most important to you?  If asked to give up one of these services for a year…what service would you be able to do without?

  • E-Commerce
  • Email
  • GPS / Maps
  • Online Streaming
  • Search
  • Social Media

Even without having the full context and background behind the question – I was engaged in it.  What internet service is most important to me?  There is clearly no “right” answer.  People value services differently.   When I starting thinking more deeply about it, I realized that each category of internet services leads to additional analysis and further places of discovery.

Talking about this topic with other people prompted additional questions.  For example, what does “E-Commerce” mean?   My first thought was, no big deal, I could do without Amazon or buying products online…   However, a colleague realized that “E-Commerce” could also extend to a variety of other activities like online banking, direct deposit, automated bill baying, and every credit or debit card transaction!  That changed my own thinking on the topic.  Could I return to a world carrying cash and mailing checks?   Do I remember how to balance a checkbook?  

This type of questioning could lead me to think differently about my own behaviors and habits.  Many of these internet services have become ubiquitous, completely integrated in our personal and professional lives.  It is hard to imagine life without search.   Google search is merely 20 years old.   Smart phones and other technologies continue to evolve changing the environment.  YouTube (via online streaming) is the number one place where many learn new things!  Social Media continues to change how we receive, create, and distribute information.  A model where these internet services are free is NOT the only possible model.  It can be a valuable exercise to challenge our own basic assumptions and expectations…and to discuss those ideas with others.  

internet services

internet services

My goal this week was to explore some tips to create good discussion board prompts!  Discussion boards are a great way to improve student engagement, encourage interaction, and expand the learning objective in different areas by getting students to think about things differently.  They can be used in face-to face classes or online.  

One of the themes of TED Tips is examine our technological environment.  Approaching questions and topics in different ways can find inspiration from different places and find new ways to connect ideas from one field or application to another.

What was the source of inspiration that prompted the starting question this week?  I encountered a version of this question on a friend’s Facebook page.  The conversation enraptured me with a variety of healthy dialogue.   Posts that prompt good discussion often inspire other prompts!  After a bit of additional search, I discovered that the question originated from a real world problem.  An economist was faced with the challenge of being assigned to a project in China – and specifically, behind the “Great Firewall of China”.  The firewall regulates the Internet within China by limiting access to foreign information, restricting internet tools like Google search and social media, and disabling many mobile applications.  What can you do to plan to be successful from an environment that does not provide the same access to technological services?  How valuable are those services?  The “Indicator” economics podcast (3:38) hosted by Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia that presented this information is embedded here and helps show us how far online streaming has evolved.  Good engaging discussion board prompts can originate from anywhere!

In conclusion, here are a few quick TED tips for writing good discussion board prompts:

  • Relate prompts to a learning objective.
  • Provide opportunity for reflection, interpretation, analysis, and problem solving.
  • Encourage open-ended exchanges.
  • Seek inspiration from everywhere!
  • Draw connections between past and present course content.  Plant the seeds for future conversations.

Next week I want to explore the Learning Technology Center and discuss the LTC’s mission and vision.

– Ted Witt
Teaching, Learning, and Technology Consultant



Would You Give Up Some Widely Used Features On The Internet?
Economics podcast The Indicator, hosted by Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia.
June 8, 2018 Heard on Morning Edition