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Tips to Improve Online Discussions

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A common assignment given in an online class is for students to participate in a discussion forum. Most discussion forums are setup so that students are asked to respond to a prompt and reply to posts from their classmates. Do you want to setup your online discussion forums to encourage substantive discussions among your students?

In a recent Inside Higher Ed blog post, Dr. Steven Mintz (Senior Adviser to the President of Hunter College for Student Success and Strategic Initiatives) writes,

We don’t simply want our students to respond to a question, but, rather to engage with the course material and take part in a genuine dialogue.

In his blog post, he goes on to give strategies for better ways to embed dialogue and interaction into asynchronous online classes. The strategies he suggests are:

Provide Better Prompts – Prompts that involve higher-order thinking skills and require the students to apply, analyze, compare and contrast, critique, evaluate, explain, infer, predict, propose, solve, and synthesize.

Ask Students to Do Something – Ask students to solve a problem, analyze a case study, take part in a debate, adopt a role or relate the topic to a current event.

Raise the Stakes – Ask students to rate individual posts. Nothing focuses the online student’s mind better than a sense that their writing is being evaluated anonymously by their classmates. You can also raise the stakes by limiting the number of students who participate in each discussion and asking the rest of the class to provide feedback on the discussion as a whole (not on individual postings).

Reimagine How Online Conversations Are Displayed – Help students better visualize the discussion by displaying networks of comments or use word clouds to underscore the key issues that have arisen.

Adopt a Different Model – Perhaps it’s a mistake to transpose a mode of communication that works well in face-to-face, synchronous or one-on-one contexts into the asynchronous realm. There are other ways to create a sense of community, promote collaboration and elicit meaningful ideas and debate.

If this has piqued your interest, you should read Dr. Mintz's, Beyond the Discussion Board, blog post.

ICYMI, read my Improve Online Discussions Using ABCs blog post for suggestions on giving feedback that impacts student performance.

If you are new to using discussions in Brightspace, you can find how-to resources for discussion forums on our blog.

Image credit: image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

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