Activities That Promote Online Discussion
Various types of online discussions:
Break the ice:
On the first day of Virtual Class, send a short biography sketch describing
yourself and interesting things about you that pertain to the course. Require
your students to do the same during the first week. It could also be helpful
to include a photo (although not necessary). This activity creates a sense
of community, gives the instructor the opportunity to have a profile of
the students in the class, and helps students find common links among themselves. For
example bios, see the ION Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality instructor
Form learning teams:
In an open and communicative online environment, students can find peers
with similar interests and form study groups. The advantage for promoting
online interaction is that learning teams should bond and thus make
each student in the group want to do his or her share. Here are some
activities for small groups working online:
Provide each other with mutual support and advice
on a variety of topics, including test preparation and administrative
Critique each other's written work, for example:
Develop a team presentation or report on a specific
Collaborate to produce a group answer to an open-ended
Develop an analysis of a case study.
Write a joint research paper.
The instructor or a visiting professor presents material, asks questions,
reviews students' answers/comments, and makes summary comments.
Students interview a person whose profession is related to the course
content and then present a summary of the interview to the Virtual Classroom,
with ensuing class discussion.
Several guest panelists each provide a small amount of material, engage
in discussion among themselves, and then open up discussion to the
Students to post a position on a topic to which others respond with pro
or con supporting arguments, followed by critique of the arguments.
Use pre-class study questions and advance organizers to encourage critical
thinking and informed participation. Assign specific discussion questions
(requiring a 1-2-screen response) to individual students with ensuing
discussion from all course participants. This ensures that all participants
have opportunity to interact. Recycle some of the most important
discussion questions throughout the course. This gives students the
opportunity to consider more in depth responses to key questions as
the course progresses.
Problem Solving/Case Study:
A short problem or case can form the basis of discussion.
First students generate a list of ideas, and then re-think the list by creating
a sense of order, structure, or relationships. Finally, participants
evaluate each item to produce a short-list and reach a consensus on
the best choices. This activity is particularly productive as a
pre-writing exercise in preparation for a term paper or essay.
Individual students or groups of students present a project or paper, with
a general discussion afterward.
Have students submit a 1-2 screen summary of what they feel to have been
the most important points covered in the course that week and relate
this to their work environment (if appropriate). This exercise has
It helps the students reinforce and synthesize
the material covered.
Each student personalizes the material adapting
it to his/her own specific professional, academic, personal needs.
Students get a multitude of perspectives on the
It gives insight to the instructor regarding the parts of the course have been effective and maybe what to cover in more in depth next time.
Require students to submit weekly critiques of an online article or Website
relevant to the course content. This activity has three functions:
It allows students to choose what to focus on
and take control of their own learning experience.
It brings outside resources into the course.
It provides participants with an extensive list
of summaries of related resources which they can choose to read,
or archive for later use.
Each student submits one critical thinking question to the
class discussion forum about the reading material for that week and
is then responsible for leading the discussion that generates from
his/her question. In other words, the students become the facilitators
of their own discussion thread. In order for this to work, students
must also be required to participate in at least 2 or 3 discussion
threads in addition to their own (they can participate in more if they
If a student comes to your office hours (either online or onground), with
an important question relating to the course content that you are able
to help resolve, ask that student to summarize the question, your conversation,
and the solution for all members of the Virtual Classroom to read.
This is helpful for three reasons:
Usually, if one student has a question, there
will be others wondering the same thing.
In summarizing the office visit conversation,
the student will reinforce what was learned.
If it is an important issue relating to the course
content, all members of the class will benefit from the posting.
Use the discussion function to upload class exams, with answers sent privately
from each student to the faculty member and results returned privately.