Creating & Sustaining Effective Online Discussions

Illustration of multiple people with word bubbles above their heads engaging in a discussion

FIU Online’s monthly Faculty Webinar series explores relevant instructional strategies and effective ways to use technology in an online classroom. The fourth webinar in the series “Creating and Sustaining Effective Online Discussions”, provided faculty with tools and strategies for designing engaging student-based discussions that foster critical thinking.  

Instant Replay: Creating and Sustaining Effective Online Discussions

 

Presenter Kona Jones, Statistics Instructor & Director of Online Learning at Richland Community College, showcased strategies for designing effective discussions in an online environment. If you missed this webinar, you can view the recording or read some of the key takeaways below.

 

Online Discussions

The misconception that online discussions are an inadequate substitute for face-to-face interactions is due, in part, to misunderstanding their true potential.

Some major advantages to online discussions include:

  • Building a community between peers and instructors
  • Allowing all students to have a voice
  • Providing an opportunity for students to participate when it is convenient for them
  • Fostering student engagement
  • Promoting critical thinking and a deeper understanding of course material
  • Allowing for reflection before responding
  • Fostering instructor presence

 

Some of the issues that faculty members often encounter in online discussions include a lack of student participation, students posting at the last minute or not thinking critically in their responses, and discussions feeling chaotic or disorganized. Below are some helpful tips to address these concerns.

Tips for increasing Student Participation

  • Make discussions mandatory
    • Provide discussion guidelines
    • Include purpose
    • Rules of engagement
    • Due dates
    • Grading rubrics
    • Examples of good and poor posts
  • Make it interesting! The options for discussion types our limitless
  • Personalize responses by using audio or video response tools

 

Managing students who don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas

  • Cover netiquette and course climate in the course syllabus, including rules of engagement
  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other
  • Create a sense of community that allows students to feel like they are a part of something bigger
  • Encourage students to respond to peers who don’t have any replies

 

If your students don’t feel like they’re trusting you or they don’t trust the other students, it’s really hard for them to get outside of themselves and feel comfortable sharing, so really try to set up that course climate where people understand it’s okay to share your thoughts

 

Applying the “Two Due Date” method

In order to facilitate effective student conversations, you can set due dates for an initial post as well as a separate due date for follow-up posts. This ensures students have someone to respond to. Requiring students to be active in discussions on multiple days will also encourage students to participate in ongoing discussions.

 

A chart listing different types of discussions including general, coursework, and other

 

Discussions should not feel like “busy work”

  • Make sure to directly align discussions with course objectives
  • Use real world examples and situations
  • Design your discussions for critical thinking with open-ended responses and multiple viewpoints/answers
  • Utilize strong action verbs for prompts such as find, analyze, explain, identify, describe and compare
  • Consider including fewer discussions that are more in depth (ex: one discussion that lasts two weeks)
  • Be present in your discussions and help guide the conversation

 

You participating can help guide the conversation to get [students] to go deeper

 

Grading discussions

Discussion rubrics are key! Rubrics help instructors assess assignments consistently while also allowing students to understand expectations. Additionally, spacing out your grading gives students an opportunity to make improvements to future posts based on your feedback. Consider beginning with grading student’s initial posts and waiting a few days before grading their follow up responses. If you noticed a student has missed the mark early on, you can guide them to go deeper in future responses.

 


Future Faculty Webinars

Be on the lookout for FIU Online’s future webinars on instructional strategies and effective ways to use technology in your online classroom. If you have any ideas for future webinar topics, we’d love to hear them. Contact Christina Schettini (cschetti@fiu.edu) to share your ideas for future webinar topics.

Read our other faculty webinar instant replay articles:

Christina Schettini is a Project Manager for the FIU Online Instructional Design team. Through her work, she supports the development of effective and engaging learning experiences in the online modality.

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