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November/December 2002 - Asynchronous Discussions:
Importance, Design, Facilitation, and Evaluation
By: Tracey Smith of Lewis and Clark College
Keywords: Asynchronous Communication, Facilitation, Online Education, Evaluation, Assessment, Discussion Forum, Design


Asynchronous – occurring at different times
Discussion – an exchange of ideas, facts, and opinions

Should you use asynchronous discussions in your course? What will they accomplish? How can they be effective? The answer to these questions is important for every online facilitator to investigate. Although you may believe online teaching and learning is in its infancy, there is enough research reported in the literature to establish asynchronous discussions as one of the most significant factors in effective online courses. Discussions (often labeled participation in traditional classes) can, and probably should be, used in most online classes. The big difference between discussions in a traditional class and an online class is when they take place. In a face to face (F2F) class, discussions are synchronous (all participating within the same time frame). Joan says, "This is what I think...." then John replies, "I agree with your first two points but disagree with your third". Online, discussions are asynchronous (taking place at different times). Joan posts a message and at a later time, John replies to her message. These discussions take place in forums the instructor creates, making assignments in regards to what should be discussed. The instructor monitors the discussions and can reply when necessary.

These discussions often become the “heart” of online courses. The discussion forums for many online courses often become the virtual classroom. Their very nature allows for reflection and critical thinking, resulting in more involvement, by more students, than the typical face to face (F2F) classroom discussion. In fact, those introverted students (as defined in personality styles), who rarely “speak up” in a F2F class, often lead exciting and thought provoking discussions online.

  1. Why Use Discussions
  2. Approaches to Discussion Questions
  3. Characteristics of Effective Discussions
  4. Useful Forums
  5. Organization
  6. Facilitating Discussions
  7. Keeping Your Balance
  8. Evaluation
  9. Resources


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