WesternU E-Learning

Online Training for Faculty and Staff

Facilitating Online Discussions

Online discussions are much like face-to-face discussions: they require preparation and active management in order to facilitate student learning.  Asynchronous discussion — or online discussion where students can participate at different times — has a number of benefits. Asynchronous discussion allows students to participate at a time that works for them.  Flexibility in timing also means that instructors can use online discussions to facilitate the exchange of ideas among students across sections of a course.

Tips for setting up online discussions for success:

Assign grades:  Assigning grades to online discussions is the biggest predictor of their success. If no grade is assigned, students are not likely to participate.

Pose a good question:  A good discussion starts with a good discussion question. Provide students with a debate prompt. Ask students to express an opinion and back up their position by applying course concepts.

Provide structure and describe your expectations:  Providing structure for students to follow leads to better learning. Students need clear parameters for discussion posts. Explicitly specify your expectations for content and quality. Provide an example for students to follow.

Provide opportunity for everyone to be heard:  In large classes, divide students into small discussion board groups of 6-8.

Encourage student ownership of the discussion:  Your presence online should not dominate the discussion; rather, it should encourage discussion between students. Rather than providing answers, stimulate further debate by offering ideas and suggesting resources. The goal is for students to feel a sense of ownership over the discussion.

Monitor the discussion:  In groups where participation is very low, re-assign group members to other groups. Instructor involvement and feedback are associated with higher level of student participation but it’s best to encourage students to respond to one another, otherwise they will look to you for the definitive response.

Grading online discussions:  Assess the quality of students’ posts, not just frequency. If you’ve asked students to draw on course concepts, then look for evidence of that when grading their posts. Assessing quality means that you need to read every student’s post, which may not be feasible in very large classes. In large classes, consider engaging students in self-assessment by asking them to submit a “Participation Portfolio” in which they provide excerpts of their “best” contributions for grading.

Please reference the following link to learn more about the tips outlined above: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/developing-assignments/blended-learning/online-discussions-tips-instructors