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9 Strategies to Ensure Successful Course Discussions

Submitted by on March 21, 2013 – 12:23 pm2 Comments

We recently suggested three alternatives to the LMS discussion tool that mimic real-life conversations in an online course. But remember–whether you’re using an alternative tool or the traditional LMS tool, the success of any discussion assignment depends on how you manage it.

Here are nine strategies that help to ensure your course discussions are impactful. discussion-boards

1. Cultivate a community oriented and participatory learning environment. The more students feel part of a community, the more likely they will be to meaningfully contribute to discussions. To foster a strong community, create engaging and community-oriented discussions that

  • Model appropriate social skills for the academic environment.
  • Leverage social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, to provide an alternate platform for communicating between students and the instructor.
  • Encourage students to share professional experiences that have helped them gain knowledge through a positive or negative situation that their classmates could benefit from knowing.

Additionally, establish yourself as the facilitator—not the dictator—of the discussion board:

  • Display a guiding presence in the online learning environment to help students feel that they are part of a learning community.
  • Share personal experiences, hobbies, and interests to connect on a personal level with the students.

2. Establish clear expectations. Provide examples of exemplary, mediocre, and poor discussion responses. Doing so sets up students for success before they start responding to the prompt.

3. Develop critical thinking skills through the Socratic Method. The Socratic questioning strategy helps students discover and construct knowledge:

4. Provide opportunities for students to work in small groups. This allows students to experience richer discussions. (Most LMS’s have a setting to randomly select groups.) Also,

  • Keep group members at a minimum (3-5 students) to allow the group to analyze, synthesize, and discuss topics on a deeper level.
  • Change groups weekly so students interact with and gain perspectives from a broader crowd.

5. Post group responses weekly, and include personalized statements. For Example—“I see many of you made references to specific challenges you have faced during your career. Thank you for sharing openly. I challenge you to make suggestions to your peers of new approaches and solutions for them to try to implement.” Want to connect with your students on a deeper level? Post an audio response with VoiceThread or a video response with Eyejot.

6. Track your responses to individual students. To ensure that you respond to everyone, export your class list to Excel, and place a mark to track as you respond to a specific student.

7. Avoid having inappropriate posts linger on the discussion board. Encourage students to alert you of any inappropriate posts on the discussion board, wiki, or blog (whatever method you use). By empowering students to monitor their discussion community, you can effectively build a collaborative environment.

8. Use the discussion board to address current events and revisit course concepts. Include real time and supplemental resources for students. (For example, a law course may include a court case being discussed in the media.) Also use the discussion board to reinforce concepts that may not have been mastered in the previous week.

9. During the last week of the course, ask students to share their advice. Have students use Google Docs or Mind42 to post advice for students who will take the same course in the future. Then post students’ advice in the first week of future courses. This will give new students tips and begin to develop a sense of community at the start of the course.

Your Turn!

Do you already use some of these practices in your course? What other tips or recommendations can you add to this list? [social-bio]


  • This morning we featured an in-depth post from one of our contributors, Adam Heidebrink, talking about this issue and offering practical advice to the students themselves. I think teachers would benefit from thinking about the same guidelines and about how they can be encouraged among the students. And I’m sure Adam would love it if you stopped by and let him know your feedback in the comments.

    Robert McGuire
    Editor, MOOC News and Reviews

  • Melissa Kaulbach says:

    Thanks for the comments Robert! You make an excellent point that the student perspective is also important, and ultimately we want to set the students up for success. I certainly will read Adam’s post and leave comments.