Alternative Discussion Types

Using Forums

Discussion boards are the core of many online courses and play a key role in community building, critical thinking, and assessment. In order to foster participation and information exchange between your students, most instructors ask thought-provoking and content-related questions; however, if not designed carefully, discussions can become a time-consuming “box checking” activity for students.  

Rather than a Q&A, consider utilizing a different assignment type using a discussion forum:  

Students have to apply the content from their readings and lectures to a provided scenario. For example, determining the prices of a good given a particular market and the demand or provided with a psychologist’s notes from multiple sessions with a patient, make a diagnoses/recommendation.  

Students can then evaluate each other’s responses thoughtfully and learn from one another. 

Students debate a topic or event that relates to your course content and respond to the opposing side with questions/counter arguments.  

Ask students to write a workforce-relevant piece of correspondence. For example, students could be asked to craft a memo or an email to a particular audience  

After drafts are posted, ask students to critique each other’s work and provide feedback. Peer evaluation can be a powerful evaluation tool and gives students the opportunity to learn from one another’s experiences. Peer evaluation works best when a clear and comprehensive rubric is provided for evaluation.  

In a research challenge, students are presented with a research question. They are asked to find supporting documents and post their analysis. Other students can then pose questions requiring the initial student to follow up with responses.  

Students can also select a topic and conduct research. They are then asked to post their findings as the expert and answer questions from the class.  

During a role-play, students can be assigned a role that requires workforce-relevant application of course content, for example: 

  • A psychologist who is provided information on a patient.  
  • A geologist reviewing information and making a recommendation for clients.  
  • A political scientist who is making a formal recommendation to city council

Ask students to present as if they are that person and respond as if they are the audience. This is a great opportunity to practice giving professional feedback.

Show & Tell is a great introduction activity for students. through a discussion board. For this discussion, students select one item that is meaningful to them (i.e., picture of their family, a favorite coffee mug, a pillow, etc.). They then create a post sharing a photo of the item and explaining why the item is meaningful to them.  

Students are asked to respond to peers who have connections based on the show and tell item. For example, a student who shares a photo of a family vacation to Colorado & other students who have traveled there share about their experience. 

In this fun game, students are asked to post to a discussion via text, video, or audio clip describing three facts about themselves or about a concept in the course. Two of those facts are true. One of those facts is a lie.  

Other students respond to the original poster guessing which fact is a lie based on context clues or their own research.

Instructors should model this behavior in the prompt by including their own truths and lies. Students could also work as a team to guess the truths and lie of their instructor in their original or response posts. 

Rather than writing, students can record themselves and post to a discussion in order to work on oral skills. This, combined with an authentic task, can help make the assignment practical and meaningful, for example: 

  • A small speech 
  • A business pitch  
  • A literature review 
  • A historical analysis 

Peer evaluations can be used or students can be assigned various topics and pose questions to one another.  

For all of these alternative discussion types, students can be manually or automatically placed into smaller groups to allow for more interaction or to divide large courses into more manageable groups. 

Rewriting Questions

As you create discussion questions, be sure to think about how students will reply and engage with one another. Does the question lead naturally to students discussing an idea? Can the question be answered with a yes or now? You may need to ask a follow up question or reword the question to lead students to pick sides of an argument or situation so that true back and forth discussions take place.  

 It is important to help students understand how you want them to respond so that you get more than just “I agree”. This can be accomplished through well-crafted prompts and clear rubrics!  Consider the differences between these two prompts: 

“List three critical factors in team building.” 


“Based on the provided resources this module, what do you see as the most critical element in team building?  Please defend your position by providing support from at least one resource we examined. After reading your classmates’ responses, select one response who’s position you disagree with and politely and professionally argue your opinion using supporting evidence from an additional source that was not provided.” 

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