Online Discussion Tips

Social presence is an important component of learning.  Online discussion forums provide a platform for student interaction and reflection.  Posting a question to which students can reflect and respond may facilitate conversation, but student participation can be shallow or inconsistent.  Adding structure to an online discussion promotes deeper thought and increased participation.  Consider the following tips when designing discussion prompts.

Designing Discussion Prompts
  • Discussion prompts should be open ended and designed to illicit a number of different responses.  Typically, the prompt should not have one correct answer.
  • Give students the opportunity to search for information and share resources with each other.
  • Discussion prompts can be directed to the whole class or set up for small group discussion.
  • Consider using a video prompt rather than text.
  • Video response is a good way for students to introduce themselves, especially in a fully online course.  It gets cumbersome when conversations have multiple responses.  Use video wisely and sparingly.

Guiding Students
  • Encourage students to treat each other with respect and carefully read responses before hitting the submit button.  Arguments should be based on the topic and never with hostility toward the individual.
  • Provide due dates for students to post an initial response and a later date for them to respond to at least (2, 3, all) classmate responses.
  • Students will often respond with “great idea” or “I agree completely” then simply restate what was posted in the initial response.  This is considered cheerleading and is not an acceptable response.  
  • To discourage cheerleading, direct students to pose a question at the end of their  initial response to give others something to which they can reflect and respond.  This helps keep the conversation going and keeps students thinking.  The question can be a wondering, a question about the content, or a prompt to encourage debate.
  • You may choose to assign points to a discussion to promote thoughtful feedback.  Since discussions often provide the chance for students to share opinions, it may not make sense to grade the content of the response.  Rather, consider using a discussion rubric or checklist that assigns points based on the level of student participation.  (See below)

CATEGORY2 points1 point0 points
Relevance to TopicResponse to relevant to the topic and reflects a solid understanding of the concept.Response is partially relevant and/or reflects a vague understanding of the concept.Response is not relevant or not detailed enough to determine the student's understanding of the concept.
Respect and RespondResponds to the required number of classmates' posts (or more) in a respectful manner.Responds to the required number of classmates' posts, but lacks respect.Does not respond to the required number of classmates or makes disrespectful comments. or only posts virtual high fives (e.g. I agree, Way to go, Awesome, etc)
Quality of ResponsesResponses to classmates are thorough, thoughtful, and facilitate further discussion.Responses to classmates are thoughtful but do not facilitate further discussion.Responses to classmates are terse, abrupt, or virtual high fives (e.g. I agree, Way to go, Awesome, etc.)
ConventionsResponse is grammatically correct. Punctuation and capitalization are correct. There are no noticeable mechanical errors. Body of response indicates student proofread response prior to submitting it.Mechanical errors are minor and inconsistent. Response indicates student proofread response in a hurry.Mechanical errors are consistent. Body of response indicates student did not proofread response prior to submitting it.
Timely ResponseResponses were posted early in order to allow time for others to respond.At least one response was posted by the due date.No responses were posted by the due date.