It is difficult to know from the information we have here how this activity was setup in the face to face session, using what we have in the scenario, I feel that no learning is taking place largely due to a lack of teacher presence or facilitation of the discussion.
Using Fetzner's work it can be seen that:
- students are struggling to understand the requirements of the online discussion, as these are not explained
- students have sought clarification from the professor but to no avail as he is not present and has provided no guidance on how to get his attention
- Established some online discussion ground rules or netiquette, including responding to comments of those in your group, not ignoring posts and using comments that move the discussion along.
- Included details on how discussion will be evaluated later in the course so that the students could understand the value of practicing now and know what they were aiming at. This would also have provided some motivation for participation.
- Set a time frame for students to join in the discussion and conclude the debate
- Scaffolded the work with some suggestions of how to conduct the discussion, giving some examples or sub questions of a simpler nature to start the discussion off.
- As a first online discussion participated in the discussion and acted as a role model
- Intervened, with those not participating, away from the discussion board probably by e-mail
I would also suggest that if the tutor is short of time to facilitate the discussion or is reluctant to interject as he feels it will distract from the student thinking he could consider using student/peer discussion facilitators, this takes time to establish as student facilitators needs some training and a set of guidelines but in longer courses it is perhaps worth the investment in creating a "teaching presence" ( Anderson et al) and reducing the "teacher presence" but at this stage of the course it was perhaps to early.