Facilitating Meaningful Online Discussions

This resource on facilitating meaningful online discussions was written and compiled by Mandy Olejnik, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Howe Writing Across the Curriculum at Miami University (Ohio).

Introduction to Facilitating Meaningful Online Discussions

Online discussions can be a generative way to help students engage with one another over course content, especially for online course contexts (although also applicable to in-person courses). Research shows that students benefit from social interactions in the classroom and out (Ambrose et al., 2011; Bean & Melzer, 2021). In this resource, we provide recommendations on how to facilitate effective online discussions, drawing from various articles and sources (included at the end for you to view as further reading).

First: Why Use Online Discussions?

While online discussions are a good pedagogical practice, they can sometimes be used ineffectively in the classroom. Here are some important questions to keep in mind as you consider the role of online discussions in your course:

  • Why are you assigning online discussion boards or posts? What are your learning goals? Is this meant to promote meaningful communication and dialogue amongst students, or is it a place for students to demonstrate knowledge?
  • Should your discussion boards be high stakes or low stakes? Should they be graded for completion or by quality?
  • Do discussions have to be done as a full class or might it be better in small groups? Who has to look at / interact with the posts?

If you employ the use of online discussions because of routine or pattern and have a hard time answering the above questions, it may be beneficial for you to sketch out some ideas around them and determine if they are the most effective practice for your course content.

In the event that you do decide to either stick with online discussions or newly incorporate them into your course, here are some recommendations for doing so.

Strategies for Implementing Online Discussions

Further Reading

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