Facilitating Asynchronous Discussions
Active learning involves students participating in the learning process rather than only passively receiving information from the instructor. Active learning can involve discussion, student-led lessons, performance of skills, and application of skills and knowledge, among other activities. Asynchronous online discussions is one approach to keeping learning active as students are provided opportunities to engage with the material and with one another.
Objective of this Page
The objectives of this page are to help faculty identify options for facilitating discussions and consider what decisions are made when creating a discussion.
Facilitating Online Discussions on Discussion Boards
Online discussions are a common way to encourage students to engage with one another and with course material. Typically, within a course module or lesson, a discussion forum will feature open-ended questions regarding interpretation or application of a course concept or of a real world-example, such as a case study. Students are required to respond to the question prompts and can be asked to respond to a certain number of their classmates' posts.
While online discussions commonly involve written responses, consider allowing students to post video or audio responses as an option as well.
Benefits of online discussion boards include
- Provides a low stakes way to assess student learning
- Creates an asynchronous space for students to interact with the instructor and with one another regarding material
- Responses can be a way for students to generate ideas for larger assignments
Discussion Board Platforms
D2L Discussion Forums
Discussion forums on D2L allow for students to engage with content and one another by posting textual, audio, or video responses. When creating a Discussion Topic in D2L, faculty can choose options such as requiring students to post a response before seeing their classmates' responses.
The first step for creating a Discussion in D2L is to create a Discussion Forum. The next step, is to create a Discussion Topic that includes the specific question prompts. See the video below for instructions on creating a Discussion Topic in D2L.
For faculty using Google Classroom as their LMS, the Google Groups application can be used to facilitate asynchronous discussions.
Flipgrid is a free online platform that focuses on students sharing video posts. It provides a way for students to record and share video responses. A benefit to this is that it can create a stronger sense of classroom community as students see and hear one another. Additionally, students are able to add greater emphasis to their responses than they may be able to do in writing, especially for those much more confident in speaking than in writing.
Watch the video below to see how Geoffrey Pynn, Assistant Professor II of Philosophy, used Flipgrid to foster lively and thoughtful discussions and how it's simplified grading online discussions.
Suggestions for Facilitating Discussion Boards
Regardless of the platform used, some guiding principles apply for creating effective discussion prompts and responses.
Think About the Types of Responses That You'd Like Students to Post
- First, make sure that a discussion board is actually what you want. Discussions are best suited for relatively short responses. Discussion boards work best when discussion posts are no more than two to three paragraphs in length and when responses are kept to one paragraph.
- If you would like students to post responses longer than three paragraphs, consider instead creating a Google Doc for students to contribute to. This wouldn't allow for as much back and forth discussion but is a good option for compiling several long posts into a single space, like a wiki.
- Asks questions that you care about and are generally interested in seeing the answer to. That may seem obvious, but expect that you’ll be reading all of the posts. Do yourself a favor so that you can maintain your own engagement.
- Avoid prompt questions with single answers. Ask questions that require interpretation, evidence for support, and application.
- Consider giving students options for the medium they'd like to use to post their response: written posts, audio or video recordings, or images of diagrams or drawings, even.
Consider Course Schedule and Pacing
- Experts suggest including no more than two to three short answer discussion questions per week in a course. For weeks in which a major assignment is due, forego having required discussion questions and instead create a discussion forum for students to post questions and receive support on the assignment (147).
- When setting up deadlines for posts and responses, stagger the due dates between the initial post and the responses so that students have a few days between first posting and responding to their classmates.
Communicate Expectations and Lead by Example
- Communicate clear expectations:
- number and length of posts and replies;
- whether you are asking students to include their own discussion questions or only responses
- whether students should use textual examples, and if so, how many per post.
- Provide examples of effective posts and model the type of communication you’d like to see when you make a post yourself.
- Clarify your role in the discussion: will you be responding to each post?
Wrap Up the Forum
One way to help enliven a discussion board and provide some closure is to require one student or a group of students to write a brief, two to three paragraph, summary of the discussion that took place among the class. Rotate the student or students assigned to summarize the discussion and use the summary as a low-stakes grade. When doing this, be sure to first model the type of summary you'd like to see by writing the first discussion wrap up summary.
Create Discussion Boards for Technical Assistance and Social Interaction As Well
In addition to creating discussion boards within modules that engage students regarding course content, it is very useful to create general course discussion forums dedicated to 1) students asking technical questions 2) providing a place for students to interact on non-course related topics.
For a discussion forum on technical questions, you do not need to have all of the answers, but it will be helpful to learn what aspects of online learning students consistently struggle with.
For continuing and building class community, a discussion forum titled "Social Space" or something similar can be a helpful strategy to work against the isolation that can exist in online learning. Like with a "Technical Questions," forum, faculty would not be expected to have all of the answers or respond to every post. The point is instead to provide an opportunity for students to continue community building.
Boettcher, Judith V., and Rita-Marie Conrad. The Online Teaching Survival Guide : Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016.