Online Discussions in Online Teaching and Learning

Partner: Center for Social Innovation

Distance learning can be improved through online discussions that promote students’ interaction (Huang et al. 2020). Students can engage in a conversation that promotes greater understanding on a particular subject (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching).

A discussion board is one of the most widely used tools for holding online discussions. There can be multiple forums on a discussion board, and each forum can be organized by topic. In discussion forums, discussions begin with a leading question or prompt called a discussion thread. Participants can then respond to the original prompt and reply to each other’s responses. It is also possible to have online discussions through social media or blogs. Blogs can be created by both teachers and students, and other participants can respond to these posts. Using social media can be very engaging for students since they are very familiar with it (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching).

Online discussions can be synchronous or asynchronous. In synchronous online discussions, videoconferencing and chat tools are widely used and can provide a sense of learning community by allowing participants to engage in real-time conversations. On the other hand, asynchronous online discussions refer to an interaction that does not require participants to interact simultaneously. Discussion forums can be used to upload content and send messages.

One way to improve students’ participation in synchronous online discussions is to choose an open-ended topic that is worth discussing, and to prepare comments and questions in advance so the conversation is not delayed. Also, ensure that guidelines are provided, and chat rules are enforced, as well as avoiding sarcasm, idioms, slang, and jokes that may cause misunderstandings. Motivating and praising students is also essential. You can raise opposing views, provoke deeper thought, ensure they are heading in the right direction, and deepen their discussions. Additionally, only respond to messages that directly address you or in which your response will add value to the discussion and keep a record of the responses.

To facilitate asynchronous online discussions, among other things, you should set clear guidelines for participation frequency and evaluation methods. Create a schedule for participation and respond only to those postings that add value to the conversation or those that you are directly addressed to. To make review of discussion board postings easier, you can add a short description to the subject line of each post you make. During the course, it is important to keep a record of all discussion board postings by copying them to a word document. Some other tips for improving asynchronous online discussions are to not take comments too personally, to edit and review your contributions, and to deliver responses of high quality (Huang et al. 2020).

Huang, R.H., Liu, D.J., Guo, J., Yang, J.F., Zhao, J.H., Wei, X.F., Knyazeva, S., Li, M., Zhuang, R.X., Looi, C.K., & Chang, T.W. (2020). Guidance on Flexible Learning during Campus Closures: Ensuring course quality of higher education in COVID-19 outbreak. Beijing: Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University.

Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching. Online Discussions. Retrieved from: