Effective Online Discussions

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will provide a brief presentation about setting expectations and following best practices in online discussions, and then a discussion on discussions! We'll talk about an array of online tools to spice up the discussion process. Come bring your successes and failures and let's talk about ways to engage students in the learning process


Laura Widenor serves as an instructional designer for Kansas State University Global Campus. Her primary responsibilities include assisting faculty in the design of online coursework, course reviews, and providing resources for best practices in online teaching. Prior to joining the K-State Global Campus, Laura acquired several years teaching experience in Idaho and held a variety of administrative positions in student life. Laura holds a Master's degree in Elementary Education, which she received through a hybrid online and on-campus program from University of Phoenix, Boise. She holds two certificates from the Online Learning Consortium in online teaching and instructional design and the Lamar University Advanced Graduate Certificate in Online Education.

Extended Abstract

This session will provide a brief presentation about setting expectations and following best practices in online discussions. Online discussions are a method of assessment that can really help students build and synthesize their knowledge as they go through the material. They have an opportunity to share their perspective and “hear” others. They can relate to each other with struggles and triumphs and find partners to collaborate with who have similar ideas. For students who tend to be more reluctant to speak up in a face-to-face session, if they are shy or unsure of their knowledge, online discussions give them an opportunity to process before they have to “speak”. It also ensures that all students are participating, not just the confident and outgoing ones. 

In order to have highly effective discussions, we must be intentional about our topics and very clear about the process. Setting clear expectations helps students understand both how to do the work, but also why. It is important for them to understand why the professor feels these discussions are valuable, and hopefully they will buy in and dive in. It’s vital to create a safe learning environment right from the beginning. There are many different steps you can take to begin to build the student’s trust and buy in before the first discussion. 

There are many different discussion types that can help grow community in an online course. Some are just going to be social or informational – they allow students to ask questions or share information that the whole class can see. It also can allow the instructor to only answer questions once, rather than through multiple different emails! It can also be very valuable for course improvement to provide a location where students can give feedback if they find a problem with the course. It helps them feel like their experience in your course matters. 

Make sure there are good, thought provoking, higher order questions. Ask them an application question and require them to cite the book to support their opinion. Use current events and ask them their opinion or how it relates to the reading done that week. Consider what is appropriate for the course content and the volume of work the students need to complete. If the course does not have discussions every week, map it out over the entire semester to decide the most critical times for students to engage in discussions.

We’ll discuss several strategies and styles for discussions that can be transferred to the online environment. We will also review tools that are effective for enhancing the discussion environment