5 Practices for Productive Online Discussions: Adapting A Brick-and-Mortar Strategy to Online Discussion Boards

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this session, participants will be introduced to a brick and mortar classroom-based strategy known as “5 Practices for orchestrating productive discussions” and consider how it might be adapted to an online discussion board with the goal of developing a new strategy for facilitating effective online discussions.



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

Learning complex knowledge and skills is achieved through social interactions (Vygotsky 1978, Lave & Wegner, 1991). In web-based learning, the primary tool for facilitating learning through social interaction is the online discussion board. Yet, many online instructors recognize the difficulty in engaging students to  demonstrate high levels of cognitive presence (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000) in the online discussion board. Student have also recognized the repetitive nature of online discussions and have shared a sense of “going through the motions” to get the grade for participation thus failing to find value in demonstrating social presence in the online classroom. If online instructors want an effective discussion that advances student learning and engagement while also promoting the development of community and self-efficacy among students, why can’t we borrow strategies from the face-to-face classroom that do just that?

In this session, participants will be introduced to the “5 Practices” framework for orchestrating productive discussions (Smith & Stein, 2011) through a 3 minute lightning talk given by the presenter. The 5 practices are: Anticipate, Monitor, Select, Sequence, and Connect. Anticipating involves engaging in the planned learning activity and considering the various ways students might demonstrate understanding or misunderstanding. Monitoring involves the development of tools that will help a teacher pay close attention to students’ thinking as they engage in the learning task. Selecting is guided by the goals of the lesson and involves identifying students who have interesting or productive ideas that can be shared with the class. Sequencing is the purposeful selection of student ideas and the order in which the whole group should consider them in order to bring all students closer to the learning objectives of the lesson. Connecting, the final practice in the framework, involves helping students draw connections between their own ideas and the ideas of others.

Following the lightening talk, participants will then work together in small groups to apply the 5 Practices to the online discussion board. Session participants will be provided with a concise summary of the 5 Practices to use as a resource during the subsequent small group conversations. Small groups will be formed and asked to address the following discussion prompts.

  1. (5 min) What strategies would you use to “Anticipate” the possible responses to a discussion board prompt? (Brainstorm as many strategies for anticipating and record them on a piece of poster paper)

  2. (5 min) What strategies would you use to “Monitor” the discussion board for important elements of student thinking? (Brainstorm strategies for monitoring and record them on piece of poster paper.)

  3. (5 min) “Selecting” and ”Sequencing” are preparatory practices that help the instructor orchestrate a final discussion. How can these two practices be adapted for the online discussion? (Think outside the box here! Come up with some ideas for adapting these practices and record them on your poster.)

  4. (5 min) The practice of “Connecting” engages learners in finding the connections between student ideas. How might we “wrap up” an online discussion and achieve this high level of active engagement?

Each prompt will have be given approximately 5 minutes for discussion (this will be adjusted accordingly based on participant engagement). The posters generated by the small groups will be hung in designated locations around the room, each location for a particular practice. After the posters are hung, participants will be asked to engage in a gallery walk with their small group (~10 minutes)  and discuss the ideas generated by other groups. They will be provide with stickers (gold stars, “+1”, etc.) that will indicate approval of ideas. The session will then culminate in a whole group discussion (~10 minutes) about the ideas that received the most stickers and the strengths and challenges of using this framework for online discussions.


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87−105.

Lave, J., Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, M., Stein, M. (2011). 5 Practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Vygotsky, L., (1978). Interaction between learning and development. In Gauvian & Cole (Eds.) Readings on the Development of Children. New york: Scientific American Books. P 34-40.