Part Deux: Discussion on the Rocks? Add a Twist of Fresh Alternatives!

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This Present and Reflect session is a sequel to the 2019 OLC Innovate blockbuster hit "Discussion on the Rocks? Add a Twist of Fresh Alternatives!" Kristin Kowal and Laurie Berry are back to share more new, creative ways for you to add a little zest to make online discussions more meaningful and enjoyable. Attendees will learn field-tested strategies that facilitate increased student engagement while still achieving the goals of student interaction, knowledge sharing, critical thinking, and broadening one’s viewpoint. 

If you joined them at OLC Innovate 2019, please come again as they’ll share new twists that you can add to your mix! For new attendees, the presenters will briefly review the last year’s twists before sharing new ways to liven up your discussions.



Laurie Berry is passionate about ensuring that all students are able to access and engage in learning experiences. She is an instructional designer and has experience working with the UW Flexible Option competency-based degree program as well as the master’s degree in Health and Wellness Management and bachelor’s degree in Business Management at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus. She holds a master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology (IDT) from Western Illinois University and enjoys presenting at local and national conferences.
Kristin Kowal is a Senior Instructional Designer for the Applied Computing Program at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus. Kristin holds a Master of Science from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has thirteen years of experience in the instructional design field.

Extended Abstract

Key Takeaways/Session Outcomes:

Takeaway 1 Use online discussions as a tool for student interaction, knowledge sharing, critical thinking, and broadening one’s viewpoint.

Takeaway 2  Identify five alternative ways to use traditional online discussion boards and apply strategies immediately. 


Discussions are one of the most widely used techniques in online courses to support learning and encourage engagement (Gao, 2014). When traditional discussions are overused (or designed solely to mimic the face-to-face environment), students begin to tire of the read, write, post pattern and their level of engagement begins to dwindle. Because of this, discussions rarely go beyond knowledge sharing or information comparison to reach synthesis and application of acquired knowledge (Gao, 2014).

Session Description:

Varying discussion formats—whether by incorporating debates, visuals, reflections, role play, or other strategies—can go a long way in making student discussions more enjoyable and more meaningful. Providing alternatives to the traditional discussion format enables adult students to form a deeper student-to-content connection and engage in more meaningful student-to-student interaction. Williams & Lahman (2009) stated that promoting active learning enhances learning outcomes. As evidenced by the Constructivist theory, when students interact with content in ways that allow them to construct new meaning, they continue to build upon prior knowledge. In addition, one of the four principles of Andragogy states that providing realistic learning experiences encourages adults to take control of their learning and apply it to situations in their own life.

Attendees of this session will learn about five alternative uses of discussion boards that facilitate increased student engagement while still achieving the goals of student interaction, knowledge sharing, critical thinking, and broadening one’s viewpoint. Participants will leave the session ready to implement these strategies immediately. Attendees will also learn about the pedagogical advantages to building and enhancing critical thinking skills using discussions and the overall impact it has on student engagement. Evidence collected via student work and faculty interviews will be used to support each strategy, as well as tips and tricks for how to avoid student or instructor pitfalls. 

At the end of the session, attendees will participate in quiet reflection during which they will examine their own use of online discussions in relation to critical thinking and student engagement with other learners and with course content. 

Self-reflection questions:

  • Why do you use discussions in your course(s)? 

  • What are you trying to achieve? 

  • Are you achieving what you want? 

Following the reflection, the presenters will lead attendees through a 10-minute Q&A group discussion where everyone will explore and evaluate effective ways to use online discussions to implement critical thinking, engagement, and connection. 

Group discussion Q&A:

  • Share answers to reflection question(s). 

  • What other techniques have you tried? 

  • How can we use discussions to explore/facilitate critical thinking, engagement, and connection?

Participant Engagement:

This session will include various opportunities for audience participation and engagement. The presenters will poll the audience throughout the session to see if they have used any of the featured strategies in their courses. This session will also include a unique way for individual audience members to communicate which new strategy they are most interested in trying after attending this session. Finally, attendees will have the opportunity to reflect on current practices while examining effective ways to use discussions to engage students and make meaningful connections.