Online Discussions

Online discussions allow faculty to assess student learning while students connect and learn with/from their peers. Weekly discussions allow faculty to ensure students are on track, engaging with the material, and engaging in critical thinking.

However, discussions can be tricky to navigate for instructors new to online learning.

The Discussion Prompt

Discussion prompts should go beyond factual recall of information. They should allow students to think more deeply about the content, connect it to real life, previous knowledge, or future implications. Asking students to provide or make up an example to illustrate the content, predictions of what would happen in certain situations, debate controversial topics, analyze real-world scenarios, or apply the content to a real-life situation are all ways that faculty can get students thinking critically about the content. These type of questions also reduce the likelihood that all students will respond in the same way. After all, if a fact-based question is asked, the discussion has nowhere to go once one student answers correctly.

Another challenge is the amount of time instructors should spend in the discussion board. It can be just as harmful to be too present in the discussion as it is to be too absent. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer, and your time in the discussion will need to vary based on your students and the purpose of the discussion. At minimum, faculty should respond to discussion threads to keep students on topic, and correct any incorrect information. They can also prompt students to think deeper or to make connections. Sometimes, a summary of the discussion can be helpful. On the other hand, faculty should be aware of how often they respond, and how quickly. Immediately responding to the first student who posts can inhibit the participation of other students. Also, an instructor coming in too soon with an answer can cut off a discussion where students discover the answer themselves.

Try to allow space for students to discuss amongst themselves, while still providing guidance and support.

Back to Teaching Online.

Last Modified: July 29, 2020