TeachingTactics: Effective Practices for Teaching with Online Discussions


This document outlines TeachingTactics: Effective Practices for Teaching with Online Discussions in your course. Our aim is to provide guidance and suggestions for basic use of the aforementioned technology.  If you are interested in documentation regarding the use of this technology for the specific purpose of Student Engagement, please see our 10 Strategies for Engaging Learners in Online Discussions.

The Purpose of Discussion

Brookfield and Preskill (1999) outline the purpose of discussion as a way to (1) develop a deeper understanding of the content domain, (2) to improve self-awareness and ability to critique self, (3) to appreciate diverse/different viewpoints emerging from the group, and (4) to trigger informed action and change.

TeachingTactics: Effective Practices for Teaching with Online Discussions

Asynchronous Discussions:

#1: Create the Right Environment

The basics: Creating the right environment can be a very important first step in structuring online discussions. This document, Online Dialogue and Discussion, outlines several elements to help create a hospitable and welcoming environment for participation in online discussions.

#2: Develop Online Discussion Grading Rubrics

The basics: In order to set expectations and reinforce guidelines for discussions, consider developing an Online Discussion Grading Rubric.  If you are looking for examples or a starting point to create your own rubric, this document, Online Discussion Rubrics, offers two examples; a basic rubric and a detailed rubric.

#3: Allow for Student Self-Assessment

The basics: Allow students an opportunity to reflect on their individual contributions and identify their strengths and areas for improving future discussion participation based on course objectives. This document, Self-Assessment and Online Discussion Groups, outlines this strategy in more detail

#4: Implement a Social Loafing Policy

The basics: Social Loafing occurs when a member or a work group does not participate or contribute meaningfully to the overall work of the group, but tries to take credit for the group’s output or product (Karau and Williams, 1993). This document contains sample course policy language that may serve as a starting point to implement this strategy.

#5: Consider Utilizing Role Assignment

The basics: The research literature suggests that the assignment of roles for the use in online discussion boards can be a valuable structuring tool, particularly if the roles are introduced at the start of discussions. This document, Roles in Online Discussion Groups, contains a brief synopsis of role assignment, as well as references.

Synchronous Discussions:

#6: Use Adobe Connect Pro for Synchronous Online Discussion

The basics: In an online/hybrid course, schedule a time for all students to congregate online at the same time.  Utilize Adobe Connect Pro to facilitate online discussions between students. Instructor can facilitate synchronous online lectures, presentations, and Q&As through the use of Adobe Connect Pro.

More support resources can be found on Academic Technology Services’ Tech Tools page for Adobe Connect Pro

#7: Establish General Ground Rules for Synchronous Meetings

The basics: Online synchronous discussions can become a messy back and forth with too many people trying to communicate at the same time.  Establishing general ground rules for communication in your synchronous meeting can prove to be very beneficial to your discussions. It will also set expectations for your participants. This document, Synchronous Online Discussion contains some language on how you might approach this.

#8: Facilitate Student Self-Reflection After Synchronous Meeting

The basics: After your class has met in an online synchronous environment, facilitate student self-reflection to allow feedback on the concepts and discussions addressed in the meeting.  This document, Synchronous Online Discussion, contains information to help you get started.

Making it Happen

If you’re interested in trying one of the listed TeachingTactics, but aren’t quite sure how to get started or need some assistance, please contact Michael Manderfeld, michael.manderfeld@mnsu.edu or Marni Dunning marni.dunning@mnsu.edu to arrange for a consultation.

Contribute Your Own TeachingTactic

Do you have your own TeachingTactic suggestion? Let us know about it! Email your ideas to Michael Manderfeld, michael.manderfeld@mnsu.edu,  or Marni Dunning marni.dunning@mnsu.edu.


Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Karau and Williams (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(4), pp. 681 - 706.



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