Online Discussions

Online discussions in Thomas Edison State University courses are asynchronous. That is, they are not conducted as chat rooms where all participants are present at the same time. Rather, you and the other participants contribute to threaded discussions that are accessible to everyone taking the course at the same time and, of course, to the mentor. There may be a deadline for your contributions to the discussion, and those contributions will be considered part of your coursework.

Communication among fellow students and with the mentor is a critical component of online learning. Participation in online discussions involves two distinct activities: an initial response to a posted question (discussion topic) and subsequent comments on classmates' responses. Meaningful participation is relevant to the content, adds value, and advances the discussion. Comments such as "I agree" and "ditto" are not considered value-adding participation. Therefore, when you agree or disagree with a classmate, the reading, or your mentor, state and support your agreement or disagreement. You will be evaluated on the quality and quantity of your participation. Responses and comments should be properly proofread and edited, professional, and respectful.

Because the mentor will assign a grade for the discussion requirement of your course, quality of comments (both initial and subsequent) are critical. So how do you stand out and attract the attention of your classmates and mentor via the discussion forum? 

Here are six key ways to help you generate an effective post, guaranteed to engage your audience and elicit thoughtful responses from your mentor and classmates.

  1. Do your homework.
    Complete the assigned readings for the module and delve directly into the material. How can you possibly write about a specific concept or topic if you don’t have a clear perspective of the course material directly from the start? As you’re reading, make connections between the text and the “real world” – find ways to make the concepts applicable to your own life. What value does the content offer you? What added value will you bring to the context of the material? Immerse yourself in the readings so when you’re ready to begin writing, you’ll be fully prepared to present an authentic, meaningful response.

  2. Wake up your classmates with a strong argument or perspective.
    Develop a strong argument and support your statements with evidence from the course materials. In other words: research, research, research and cite, cite, cite. Be concise and articulate your ideas thoroughly. Pose an additional question with supported documentation. Explore all parts of the discussion question and get students to think beyond traditional measures. Not sure if your ideas will garner the attention you’re looking for? Be sure to reference a rubric to keep you on track.

  3. Be relevant. 
    A post placed in an authentic context is the key to generating a successful discussion. Include personal or professional experience (when it’s applicable), and support your ideas with text evidence. Are you learning about something that you have direct experience with or currently explore in the workplace? Offer real-world application of these ideas to bring added value to the conversation and resonate with other students. Remember to always relate direct references to concepts you’re learning about and establish those connections with evidence from academic sources. 

  4. Bring something unique to the post.
    What’s the added value you’re contributing to the dialogue? Provide a video clip, article reading, or link to an outside resource that highlights the message you’re conveying; do something extra that requires others to think and respond to the ideas you’re sharing. Establishing a standpoint and supporting it with evidence are great ways to demonstrate that you are not only making connections with the content but also attaining a deep understanding of the material.

  5. Prepare your response in a text editor before you post.
    Whether you love working in the cloud via Google Apps or are a longtime fan of Word, use your favorite text editor and draft your response in a text editor before you post to the discussion board. In doing so, you’ll have a better chance to ensure the post is cohesive, coherent, and complete. You’re also more likely to catch grammatical errors and other mistakes there first.

  6. Leave participants wanting more.
    Post your response, engage with your classmates, and continue to ask follow-up questions. Be an integral part of the conversation and add value to what is being discussed. Some of the best online discussions continue in the minds of others long after you post to the discussion forum. So the next time you post – ask yourself: What’s the added value I can bring directly to this discussion? Conduct your research, support your ideas, be relevant, and work hard to make it happen!