Discussions: Why do I use them again?

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

You know that someone told you using online discussions was good, but why was that again?  Is there a better way to do online discussions?  This session looks at research on discussions, ideas for improving discussions, and time to share what you are doing for online discussions.

Sponsored By


Cathy Russell has over 10 years experience working in higher education. Upon receiving her Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and her Master's degree in Educational Technology from Texas A&M University, she began her career. She started as an Instructional Designer for Blinn College, Lonestar College, and Pima Community College before arriving at the University of Arizona. She has worked with multiple Learning Management Systems, including WebCT, Angel, Blackboard, and D2L. Cathy is also in her 9th year of teaching online as an Adjunct for Lonestar College. Being an online student and online instructor has provided Cathy with invaluable perspective to aid in course design. She is interested in researching methods in online course design that will create higher rates of student success and is passionate about making online courses that enhance learning and are interactive.
Janet Smith serves as an Instructional Designer leading quality assurance initiatives at the University of Arizona with the Office of Digital Learning. She manages a multitiered and collaborative quality assurance process to ensure that courses developed for UA Online are designed for student success and engagement. Janet works with partners across campus to integrate best practices around course design, copyright, UDL, and accessibility into the instructional design process and leads the Quality Matters program for the university. She received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona, her master's degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from Northern Arizona University, and a graduate certificate in Educational Technology from Northern Arizona University. In her free time, Janet enjoys spending time with her family and friends, cooking, and practicing and teaching yoga.

Extended Abstract

Online discussions are the primary method to provide student to student interaction in an online course, but many faculty do not see the value in them.  Research has shown that student to student interaction is important, but if faculty are not seeing the value in them there has to be a disconnect.  Other faculty have fallen into a rhythm of 1 post and 2 replies.  Is this the best method for delivering an online discussion?  This session will go through both research and practice and bridge the gap between the two.  The goal of this session is provide practical ways to get better discussion from your students, and also offering a place for faculty to share their success with discussions as well.

Over the past couple of years, we have collected information from multiple instructional designers and faculty on how they set up their discussions that got the best results.  These ideas will be shared with all of the participants.  This session will include a short presentation with time for the audience to collaborate, and time to share the best discussion ideas back to the room.  

The presenters represent several perspectives from instructor, instructional designer, student, and Quality Matters coordinator.  All of these perspectives provide a holistic approach to creating discussions and has an added dimension of how discussions can add to the integrity of the course design.  

Discussions can be a great tool to enhance learning, provide an opportunity for students to interact with each and share knowledge, create dynamic conversations, and give a chance to pursue topics that are related but aren’t covered in the course aka rabbit holes.  With a little intentionality all courses can have better discussions that are a more positive experience for the instructor and the students.  This session with give ideas, that have been tested, to improve discussions.