Adapting High Quality Classroom Discussion Strategies to Online Discussions

Concurrent Session 10
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

How can we take what we already know about good face-to-face teaching pedagogy and apply it to online teaching?  In this session, participants will examine face-to-face frameworks for defining high quality classroom discussions and consider how they can be used to generate specific strategies for facilitating engaging online conversations.


Dr. Christopher Bogiages is a clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina. He currently teaches online courses for the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education in the online doctoral program in Curriculum Studies. His current research interests include the development and delivery of online graduate courses and the development of community among online learners.

Extended Abstract

As with many online instructors, the presenters for this session have entered the world of online instruction after having developed some experience in face-to-face learning environments. We propose that much of the knowledge and expertise developed in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms can be useful to consider in online teaching environments as well. However, careful adaptations are required to take into account the unique nature of online interactions, including the asynchronous nature of discussions and the broad community each class can represent.  

Specifically, there is a wealth of information relating to developing a strong classroom community and high quality discussions in a classroom setting.  Most brick-and-mortar teachers know and can describe what good, engaging classroom conversation looks like and even have specific strategies to support productive conversations.  However, with the growth of online instruction, it is imperative for instructors to also develop strategies and pedagogy that supports online interactions and collaboration amongst the community of learners in online classes (Rovai, 2002).  

Typically, online course design includes discussion board forums as a way to engage students in group conversations and learning. However, instructors and students have noted that there is a general lack of quality communication and activity in online forums (Lu, Chui & Law, 2010; Spatariu, Hartley & Bendixen, 2004). Students note that they post infrequently on discussion boards, responding only to the instructors’ prompts, and remain disconnected and isolated from each other.

The goal of this session is to engage the participants in applying frameworks that describe and evaluate characteristics of high quality in-person classroom discussions to online discussions, and then consider specific strategies and ideas that can be applied to facilitate engaging online conversations.  The session will invite the audience to review and analyze their own discussion board threads to discover elements of conversations that indicate high quality engagement and interaction and consider what areas could be improved. Participants will also have opportunities to apply and adapt ideas shared in the session to their own discussion boards.  

To begin the session, examples of frameworks and rubrics for quality in-person classroom discussions will be provided to bring attention to things instructors might look for within discussion threads and specific student posts (e.g. Wenger’s Community of Practice, 1998; and Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth’s Development of Communities, 2001).  For example, beyond the typical, “respond, affirm, thank you” pattern, instructors can look for patterns of communication that indicate that students are actively engaged with each other.  Also, utilizing these research based frameworks for assessing discourse within community, instructors can also be looking for evidence of students being engaged with the prompt, building on each others’ ideas, disagreeing with each other, bringing in outside sources or providing examples from their own experience, and coming to consensus. Within the session, we will ask participants to examine their own discussion threads to see where the frameworks are useful, or not, in describing their students’ participation.  

Once the participants in the session develop a shared understanding of some of the characteristics to look for in high quality discussion board conversations, we will discuss some strategies for instructors around how to adapt in-person tools to facilitate productive conversations. For example, protocols are commonly used within in-person communities to structure conversations, but the asychronous nature of online participation require some adaptations of the protocols to work. Specific ideas for adapting protocols for online participation, such as providing specific timelines for participation, and creating multiple discussion groups will be discussed. The session will close with an open invitation for participants to share additional ideas and suggestions with each other.  



Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2001). Toward a theory of teacher community. Teachers College Record, 103, 942–1012.

Lu, J., Chiu, M. M., & Law, N. W. (2011). Collaborative argumentation and justifications: A statistical discourse analysis of online discussions. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 946-955.

Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(1).

Spatariu, A., Hartley, K., & Bendixen, L. D. (2004). Defining and measuring quality in online discussions. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 2(4), 1-15.