education has grown in the last two decades, so has the body
of research surrounding best practices for instructors of
online courses. Required online discussions are some of the
most common assignments in any online course. Maddix (2012)
states, “Effective online courses are highly dependent on
the success of online discussion” (p. 382) and stresses that
“effective online discussion can create a dynamic learning
context that fosters learning, growth, and community among
students and the teacher” (p. 373).
Not only are
online discussions some of the most common assignments, but
also they are one of the principle benefits of online
education. Hall (2016) explains that face-to-face
discussions are often controlled by few extroverted
students, while asynchronous discussions allow all students,
including introverted learners, enough time to think about
questions and formulate responses before participating in
discussion online. On the other hand, massive open online
courses (MOOCs) are encountering converse results related to
discussions. Hew and Cheung (2014) found that instructors
of MOOCs report lack of student response in online
discussions as a major challenge. Perhaps this is due to
the fact that several hundred students could be enrolled in
a particular MOOC at the same time, and a discussion thread
with that many participants could quickly become
overwhelming and impersonal. While discussion is an
important component of any course regardless of how many
students are enrolled or the setting, the challenges and
benefits of discussion in each setting are unique and
therefore traditional online courses are the focus of this
courses, instructors have been trying new methods of
structuring and delivering discussion questions to increase
participation and student engagement for years. Chang,
Chen, and Hsu (2011) emphasize that the most important role
for an online course instructor is to ensure the
participation of students online, because student
participation promotes their active involvement in learning
processes. Researchers have suggested many different ways
of communicating with students in various online course
discussions, and many of these ideas are examined in this
Designing Discussion Questions
courses began, instructors have looked for ways to increase
student involvement and participation as they seek to
replace the traditional face-to-face interactions
experienced in classrooms with electronic interactions.
Instructors generally structure courses around a textbook,
and it is tempting to utilize the discussion questions that
are printed in the textbooks when planning a course. Some
researchers suggest that instructors remain open to taking
the discussions in a more flexible direction that is led by
students instead of publishers. Rao (2010) reported that
students in online courses appreciated the instances in
which course content was made relevant to their local
scenarios. In this study, student engagement was increased
by bringing local topics and current events into the
discussions. Powell and Murray (2012) and Mills (2015)
reported an increase in engagement when asking students to
provide personal examples that helped to explain the course
concept to others, and supported the idea that connecting
course concepts to “real-life” makes learning more
meaningful for students. Similary, Paff (2015) suggested
that instructors should enable students to select discussion
topics or identify issues for exploration. This researcher
found that discussion topics that were personal, timely, and
relevant promoted more robust scholarly discourse. He also
suggested that providing choice of discussion topics for
students increased their sense of ownership for learning.
to relevance, students value discussion questions that are
interesting. Du and Xu (2010) found that a student’s level
of interest in the discussion topic is a predictor of the
quality of online discussion. The more interested a student
is in a topic, the higher the quality of their discussion.
Cheung, Hew, and Ng (2008) reported that the main reason
students do not participate in an online discussion (87
percent of the time) is because they do not feel
knowledgeable about the subject or topic. In the same
study, 60 percent of the students said they chose to
participate in a particular topic because it was interesting
to them. This data suggests that instructors should be
willing to ask students what they want to discuss, or even
ask that students submit their ideas for discussion
questions that align with course material.
(2005) reports that relevant, goal-based discussion topics
will attract participation if both the relevance and
learning objectives are made explicit to the students. This
research implies that students will be more engaged in
discussions in which the instructor has communicated the
learning objectives prior to the beginning of the
discussion. Students want to know why they are required to
participate in a discussion, and what type of knowledge they
will gain from participating.
participation and engagement seem low at the beginning of a
course, an instructor could also apply concepts recommended
by Schellens and Valcke (2005). These researchers found
that students who did not have much knowledge on a topic
coming in to the course were more engaged with discussion
topics that built on each other throughout the course
instead of jumping from topic to topic each week. They
determined that if each discussion theme is built on a new
body of knowledge, little transfer of knowledge from a
former discussion could occur. Stephens (2015) suggested
beginning each online course with a discussion that asks
students a series of open-ended questions based on the
course content, allowing the instructor to assess student
readiness and content knowledge, and students to participate
in an active learning activity and increase their sense of
of all of these studies imply that instructors should be
willing to update the discussion questions as the course
moves forward, rather than setting the discussion questions
when the course begins. The research suggests that creating
a flexible model for the incorporation of different types of
discussion questions will allow instructors to utilize the
method that will be most beneficial to their particular
subject, course, or group of students (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Considerations When Creating Discussion
Procrastination is the propensity to delay beginning or
completing tasks (Lay, 1986), or to defer tasks to the point
of distress (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). Researchers suggest
that students who procrastinate are often less academically
successful in online discussions because they interact less
with their classmates, regardless of the types of discussion
questions used. Not only do they interact less than their
non-procrastinating peers, but when they do interact, they
are doing so later and thus missing out on course related
dialogue. This tendency to interact late or not at all has
a detrimental effect on academic performance (Michinov, et
In order to
prevent or stop procrastination, several strategies have
been suggested, including using motivational approaches (Tuckman,
2003), scaffolding (Elvers et al., 2003; Tuckman, 2005;
Tuckman, 2007), establishing regular deadlines (Ariely &
Wertenbroch, 2002), giving regular feedback (Doherty, 2006),
utilizing authentic topics (Rovai, 2007; Worley, 2015), and
centering discussion questions on a course project or paper
(Rovai, 2007). Motivational strategies can be used at the
beginning of the online course to encourage potential
procrastinators to participate early and often. For
instance, the instructor might provide students with
feedback about performance as it relates to course grades.
He/she might also ask students to compare their level of
participation with that of their classmates (Michinov &
Primois, 2005; Michinov et al., 2011). Finally, group work
can be used to foster collaboration and responsibility among
students, particularly when pairing students who do
procrastinate with those who do not (Michinov et al.,
(the modeling of the desired outcome by the teacher which is
then gradually shifted to the student; Tuckman, 2005) can be
used to coach procrastinators and provide them with
additional learning assistance via guided discussions, time
released course information with regular deadlines (Ariely &
Wertenbroch, 2002), and consistently provided feedback
(Doherty, 2006) in the form of guided synchronous and
asynchronous discussion. As student motivation increases
and procrastination decreases, instructors can gradually
withdraw the additional assistance (Tuckman, 2007).
above, utilizing authentic discussion topics also may
decrease procrastination among online learners due to the
potential to increase intrinsic motivation. Authentic
discussion topics have been shown to have meaning and
relevance to students because students believe they are
discussing something they need to succeed in the course and
in life (Rovai, 2007; Worley, 2015). Instructors may
consider utilizing current events, news stories, real-life
case studies, etc. to develop authentic discussion topics
that make a connection between course concepts and real
practice. Another way to increase authenticity of
discussions and decrease procrastination is to center
discussion questions around a large project/paper that is
authentic in nature (Rovai, 2007). Discussion questions can
provide students with regular check points during the
semester to ensure they are meeting time-related deadlines
and understanding course concepts. As a result students
will be required to work on large projects in smaller
increments throughout the semester instead of waiting until
the last minute.
these studies emphasize the importance of combatting
procrastination at the beginning of the course. Several
approaches can be used to address procrastination including
offering motivational techniques, establishing deadlines,
providing prompt feedback, and centering discussion
questions on interesting topics or large projects. If
implemented appropriately, research indicates these
approaches will keep students actively involved in
discussions early and often, thus improving their academic
success in the course.
Incorporating Reflective Assignments
to combatting procrastination via online discussions,
reflection through discussion can be used to increase
student learning in online courses. Reflection is the
ability to connect new information with personal meaning or
past experiences (Gardner, 2001) and create new
understanding based on that connection (Morley, 2008).
Reflection typically occurs individually or between only the
student and instructor, but research shows that reflection
through online discussions can make for a more interactive,
shared process, which may better facilitate knowledge
acquisition. One study found that students who participated
in online reflections via discussion reported higher levels
of mastery of course objectives (Bye, Smith, & Rallis,
MacKnight (2000) suggests that students will not be able to
engage in online reflection unless they have developed the
skills and practiced them beforehand. Thus, it is essential
for the instructor to facilitate the skill of reflection
before the online discussion begins. One suggestion for
doing this is to assign an offline reflective activity early
in the term. In addition to this, instructors must support
the online reflection process by focusing the discussions,
asking probing questions and holding students accountable
for their responses, and among others, periodically
summarizing the discussion (MacKnight, 2000).
discussion questions asked are also essential to
facilitating reflection. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides the
instructor with six domains from which to develop discussion
questions: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis,
synthesis, and evaluation. While the lower level domains
(i.e. knowledge domain) elicit basic concepts with no
requirement of reflection, the higher level domains require
making judgments and reflecting on quality of information
(Bloom, 1984). These thought provoking questions are
essential to reflection, and instructors should consider
developing thoughtful, higher level focus questions from
which to center the discussion. King (1995) found that by
asking higher level questions and providing feedback and
guidance during the discussion, learning is boosted (see
Table 1 for an example of a reflective question posed in an
online discussion by one of the authors).
Table 1. Sample Reflective Question and Student
“Reflect on what you have learned so far in class. Don't
simply describe what you have learned, but reflect on it by
explaining a personal meaning or a new understanding that
has impacted your life in some way.”
Sample student response:
“…Whenever I used to think about cocaine users, I thought
of addicts who just want to get high. I learned that cocaine
actually used in this day and age in nose and throat
as an anesthetic. This is important for me to remember,
I always think of drugs as just: BAD. Like we learned
drugs are neither good nor bad…”
format of the discussion can also be used to improve
reflection in the online learning environment. MacKnight
(2000) suggests the use of collaborative activities such as
small group discussions, case study discussions with complex
problems for analysis, and mock trials where students are
provided a trial identity to carry out. One university
faculty used a unique reflection approach by assigning
students to write online letters to a critical friend that
revealed lessons learned, connection of knowledge learned,
and new knowledge created. These letters were posted and
shared to the discussion forum throughout the term, and
allowed for open communication about shared experiences,
ideas, and implications for practice (Rocco, 2010). Another
group of researchers asked students to self-reflect on the
act of collaborating in group discussions (Xu, Du, & Fan,
research suggests that instructors can foster the skill of
reflection by developing higher level focus questions,
guiding students in reflective practice at the beginning of
the course, and utilizing a variety of discussion formats to
illicit not only reflection but critical thinking and
thoughtful interaction as well. If done properly, students
will leave the course with a good grade and a mastery of
to improve the quality of online learning, and particularly
online discussions, is to provide timely, meaningful
feedback to students. Many times during online courses it
can be easy to allow students to complete much work before
providing them with any type of response informing them of
their performance level. However, this may not be
beneficial to students because they will not learn without
constructive communication from the instructor. Feedback is
essential to learning and improvement, especially in an
online course where students do not get informal feedback
during a class period. Several researchers have published
advice for instructors on how to provide feedback in the
most meaningful way.
online discussions, MacKnight (2000) has found that
providing daily feedback is essential. She recommends
instructors post at least one message per day to suggest
discussion posts are being read. However, she warns
instructors not to post too soon or too often because it is
essential to allow students time for reflecting on and
responding to their peers’ posts. Additionally, she
suggests that when providing feedback it should be in the
form of thought provoking questions that require students to
critically think about the discussion topic.
to providing thought provoking feedback to students,
instructors might consider delivering accurate, but
reassuring feedback to students to encourage them to
continue to communicate rather than deterring them from
communicating with criticizing feedback (Rovai, 2007; Xie,
2013). Xie postulates that specific, encouraging feedback
will help students develop reasonable efficacy beliefs.
(2005) agrees that positive feedback is essential in online
discussions, but further develops this recommendation by
providing a seven-step process for online instructors:
Start positive (e.g. this post was
Provide the grade with a rationale
(e.g. this post scored an 80% because you followed 4 of
the 5 discussion guidelines);
Provide a correction as a reminder
or recommendation (e.g. remember, it is important to use
APA formatting when citing references);
Provide an example or tip to make
the correction (e.g. students find it helpful to use the
formatting guide posted on the course page);
State the expectation (e.g. to
raise your grade next week, try using the guide to
reference your sources);
State you will help students (e.g.
I am here to help you, so don’t hesitate to email or
call with questions); and
End with a motivational statement
(e.g. only one discussion left – keep up the good
may find it helpful to utilize a grading rubric to accompany
their discussion feedback as well (see Figure 2 for a sample
rubric utilized by one of the authors). Utilizing a grading
rubric is an effective way to maintain consistency when
grading while providing specific guidelines to students
about the explicit criteria essential for each post. Vidmar
(2004) suggests developing rubrics that require posts to be
concise, limiting a comment to one or two points and
explaining the logic of those points. He also recommends
stressing punctuality, proper grammar, and quality of
content in the rubric. Further, interaction is an essential
discussion criterion, and should be added to the rubric
(Heflin, n.d.; Kent, Laslo, & Rafaeli, 2016). To increase
interaction, instructors might consider requiring two
separate deadlines. The first mid week deadline includes
the initial post responding to a question posed by the
instructor, and the second deadline entails responding to at
least two other students (Heflin, n.d.). Another approach
to discussion forums is to assign a reading and have each
student post an open-ended question about the reading for
the first deadline. Then, the second deadline entails
responding to each others’ questions, and finally, a third
deadline could be added asking students to end each response
with another question in order to facilitate higher level
thinking (Vidmar, 2004).
rubrics also provide a means to allocate a course grade for
discussions. For example, discussions counting for 10-20
percent of the total grade in a course have been found to be
most effective at increasing communication, number of
messages posted, and online classroom community (Rovai,
2007). Additionally, including a rubric item that requires
5-6 posts throughout the discussion period has been proven
to influence meaningful discourse (Gilbert & Dabbagh,
2005). Meaningful discourse is the ability of learners to
demonstrate critical thinking by relating content to prior
knowledge and experiences, interpreting content through
analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, and making inferences (Jonassen
et al, 1995; Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005).
approach using grading rubrics is to increase student
responsibility and self-awareness by providing examples of
previous posts to students and asking them to distinguish
between high quality and low quality posts based on grading
rubric criteria (Vidmar, 2004). This approach allows
students to perform an assessment of others’ posts and then
transfer that process into one of a self-grading experience
(see Table 2).
research concludes that it is essential to provide positive,
immediate, and detailed feedback to facilitate learning.
Additionally, grading rubrics can accompany feedback and add
consistency and transparently posted expectations to an
instructor’s grading process while allowing students to more
easily identify the criteria for quality discussions and
thusly grade themselves.
Discussion Forum Initial
Makes little or no effort to
Not completed, or late.
Uses somewhat developed ideas
to analyze issues.
Within documented time
Makes significant effort to
analyze issues with developed ideas.
Within documented time
Discussion Forum Responses
Less than two postings;
feedback lacked insight/ constructivism.
Not completed, or late.
Two or more postings and
created responses accordingly; feedback lacked
Within documented time
Two or more postings and
created responses accordingly; provided constructive
feedback to classmates, and raised opposing views.
Within documented time
Discussion Forum Final
Makes little or no effort to
respond to classmates’ questions/comments.
Not completed, or late.
Uses somewhat developed ideas
Within documented time
Makes significant effort to
analyze issues and answer questions in response.
Within documented time
Figure 2. Sample Grading Rubric.
Table 2. Self-Grading Question and Sample Student
“Please perform an analysis and self-assessment of the
discussion posts from last week.
Take two of the best posts you read (copy and paste them
into the discussion thread –
they can be your own) and explain why you think they are
high quality based on the
grading rubric for discussions (see the syllabus).”
Sample student response:
“…Based on the rubric, I believe that those are my best
posts because I analyzed all the
issues that were listed and I responded with feedback that
would engage conversation.
These two posts show that I thought thoroughly about the
topic, I was knowledgeable
of the information discussed, and I used sources to back up
Overcoming Challenges in
have faced challenges with managing online discussions when
they have a large number of students enrolled in a course.
Naturally, reading through the posts, re-
students, and grading the discussion posts will take more
time with more students.
states that the “norm” for responding to students is 24
hours, and for grading work, seven days is the longest
faculty should wait. These guidelines may seem unattainable
for instructors, depending on their work loads. Students
have their own set of negative perceptions about discussions
in large online courses as well.
(2010) conducted a study in which she found that larger
class enrollments are negatively correlated with faculty
participation in the online discussion, and therefore lead
to lower student satisfaction with the discussion. The
researcher recommends that 14 – 20 students in a discussion
group is ideal. Similarly, Salmon (2003) asserts that good
e-moderating always includes summarizing and feedback, which
can be difficult to do with more than 20 active
participants. She found that 8 – 12 students per course or
learning group was ideal for the students to benefit from
each other’s posting and for the instructor to be able to
manage the discussion. Sullivan and Freishtat (2013) found
that students preferred being split up into small groups of
four to six when participating in online discussions, rather
than to remain in one large group. They found this model to
be less overwhelming and easier to conduct a meaningful
conversation with their peers. Jones, Ravid, and Rafaeli
(2004) also found that students were more likely to stop
participating in discussions with too many participants as
the overloading of mass interaction increases.
alternative was explored by Baran and Correia (2009). These
researchers allowed students to volunteer to be the
facilitators for the discussions in their online course.
The instructor modeled facilitation in the first few weeks
of class, and provided each student facilitator with some
guidelines for conducting their discussion. In these
situations, the instructor contributed to the discussions as
a participant rather than the facilitator. Different
students used different techniques during their week to lead
the discussion, but all were found to have produced high
levels of participation with quality dialogue. “Findings in
this study indicate that peer-facilitation strategies can
help generate innovative ideas, motivate students to
participate actively in the discussions, and provide an
atmosphere for involvement and commitment” (p. 357). Rourke
and Anderson (2002) conducted a similar study and also found
that students valued the experience of leading discussions,
and preferred peer facilitation to instructor facilitation.
increasing popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
has afforded new ways for learners to consume information,
often at no (or very low) cost. These online courses may
seem daunting to faculty who are considering developing
their own MOOC and offering it through a popular MOOC
provider, based on the number of students expected to enroll
in the course averaging around 43,000 (Ferenstein, 2014;
Jordan, 2014). Since a course can only have a small number
of instructors and teaching assistants assigned (compared to
the volume of students), researchers suggest shifting the
responsibility of leading discussions to students, or
creating smaller localized groups of students, and allowing
an instructor or content expert in the physical area of that
learning community to lead the discussion (Jacobs, 2013;
Kulkarni, Cambre, Kotturi, Bernstein, & Klemmer, 2015).
Others suggest that instructors of MOOCs simply set the
expectation that they will only answer the most popular
questions posed by students in the discussion forums (Suen,
2014). This could be determined by reading through all
posts in the discussion, or by utilizing an up-voting and
down-voting system designed to allow students to vote on
posts they found to be most (or least) interesting or
are also present for students and instructors when an online
class has low enrollment. Hew and Cheung (2011) found a
significant positive correlation between group size and the
frequency of higher level knowledge construction occurrences
in online discussions. This suggests that more high-level
knowledge construction tends to occur in larger discussion
groups. Since instructors generally cannot control the
number of students who enroll in their courses, it is
important to become familiar with different strategies to
manage discussions in both large and small online classes.
and Ge (2007) found that in small courses, delayed postings
became an obstacle for students to meet the required number
of postings and maximize learning stemming from observing
their classmates’ opinions, ideas, and experiences. They
report “it is important to apply a variety of procedural
requirements to facilitate students to participate in
discussions in a meaningful and timely manner” (p.414). In
these situations, the researchers found that having students
follow very structured timeframes for postings was essential
for success. As mentioned previously, instructors could
create rubrics that require the students to create their
initial post during the first half of the week or module, so
that everyone will have posts to read and respond to.
Alternatively, Du, Havard, and Li (2005) propose that
faculty employ a model for online discussions in which
“continuous peer review of posted responses to items
challenges each student to provide their best input to the
learning community created through dynamic discussion”
(p.216). In this model, students are required to choose one
(of two) discussion question, and post their response to the
question. Additionally, students must also critique one
other student’s response. This highly structured model
pushes students to become more engaged in the discussions.
These researchers also noted that when students are given
discussion questions that relate to a course project,
engagement is increased.
discussions are another alternative for combatting the lack
of discussion participation in small courses. Cheung, Hew,
and Ng (2008) found that in peer-led discussions, eighty
percent of the students feel more motivated when the forum
owner acknowledges their posting. This causes them to want
to post even more in the thread. The same study found that
many students feel discouraged after they find that others
have already posted similar ideas to what they wanted to
post. In these cases, it could be helpful for instructors
to employ a feature of the course management system in which
the students cannot see each other’s posts before they
answer the initial discussion question. Park, et al. (2015)
also supported this practice when they found that levels of
participation in online discussions remained stable when led
by students rather than instructors.
research concludes that instructors should pay special
attention to class size as they plan their online
discussions. Different techniques designed to maintain the
value of participation or increase the level of student
engagement may be helpful when a class is especially small
or large. Applying these techniques requires instructors to
be flexible with discussion techniques based on course
Inexperienced Online Learners
challenge for instructors and students regarding online
discussions is a general unfamiliarity with online courses.
Tyler-Smith (2006) found that many students who are new to
online learning drop out in their first semester due to
various challenges that combine to make the student feel so
uncomfortable that they cannot move forward. Some of these
challenges include negotiating the required technology and
course management system, negotiating the course content,
and interacting with peers via asynchronous discussions. He
suggests that instructors simply tell learners about the
common struggles that new online learners face at the
beginning of a program to make them feel more at ease. In
addition, he suggests that instructors directly contact
students who seem uncomfortable with the technology and/or
course participation, or those who do not post to the
discussion board during the first course module, to provide
direct support and encouragement. Similarly, Carr (2014)
asserted that instructors should never assume that students
in online courses are familiar with the technology used to
deliver course materials, and should make an effort to
contact students via email before the course begins to offer
instructions for accessing the course and any other helpful
resources that the student may need when getting started.
(2015) and Brinthaupt, Fisher, Gardner, Raffo and Woodard
(2011) suggest that instructors start each online course
with a “check-in quiz”, designed to introduce students to
the online course format in a simple, low-pressure way.
Students are asked to find each element in the course that
will be important for their learning (content, discussion
requirements, due dates, grading procedures, assignment
submission requirements, etc.), and students will naturally
become more familiar with these elements as they complete
the quiz. The quiz should be set up in the same format as
an exam for the course. These quizzes can help relieve some
of the anxiety that first-time online students often feel
when entering the course, which may lead to higher grades
and rates of success. This could be especially useful when
requirements for participation in an online course
discussion vary from instructor to instructor.
(2003) notes that a certain amount of “lurking” or reading
others’ comments without participating should be allowed at
the beginning of a course for new learners. She reports
that online students will start to participate only when
they feel ‘at home’ in the online culture and with the
technology that is being used. She also suggests that
instructors in online courses should try to connect students
who have the same interests, to encourage a sense of
community and belonging. It is important to note that these
actions can only be completed if instructors are willing to
read the comments from their students and then act on the
information in those comments.
are new to online learning may also benefit from bringing
the offline world into the online course. Bull (2014)
suggests adding an element to online courses in which
students are required to conduct an activity, and then
discuss the results. Suggestions for these activities
include face-to-face interviews with professionals in a
relevant industry, observations of actions in the natural
world or a professional environment, service learning
activities, and capturing and sharing relevant photo and
video footage from their area. These suggested activities
would be ideal for new online learners, as they could bridge
the gap between hands-on, traditional learning and
This body of
research suggests that instructors should actively seek out
students who are new to the online environment in the
beginning of each term. This task may seem overwhelming,
especially for instructors with large courses, but
thoughtful planning combined with some of the techniques
mentioned could reduce the time instructors spend assisting
students with navigating the course delivery system or
familiarizing themselves with online course structures.
many strategies educators can use to increase student
engagement in online discussions. The results of the
studies analyzed imply that instructors should be willing to
create a flexible model for the incorporation of different
types of discussion questions, rather than relying on
pre-printed discussion questions listed in the textbook
(Cheng, et al., 2008; Dennen, 2005; Du & Xu, 2010; Paff,
2015; Rao, 2010; Schellens & Valcke, 2005). Several
approaches can be used to address procrastination including
offering motivational techniques (Tuckman, 2003),
scaffolding (Elvers et al., 2003; Tuckman, 2005; Tuckman,
2007) establishing deadlines (Ariely & Wertenbroch, 2002),
providing prompt feedback (Doherty, 2006), and centering
discussion questions on interesting topics or large projects
(Rovai, 2007). Research also suggests that instructors can
foster the skill of reflection by developing higher level
focus questions (King, 1995), guiding students in reflective
practice at the beginning of the course (MacKnight, 2000),
and utilizing a variety of discussion formats to illicit not
only reflection but critical thinking and thoughtful
interaction as well (Rocco, 2010).
can also improve online discussions by providing positive,
immediate, and detailed feedback to facilitate learning (MacKnight,
2000; Rovai, 2007; Xie, 2013). Additionally, grading
rubrics can accompany feedback and add consistency and
transparently posted expectations to an instructor’s grading
process while allowing students to more easily identify the
criteria for quality discussions and thusly grade themselves
(Gilbert & Dabbagh, 2005; Rovai, 2007; Vidmar, 2004).
have found that instructors should pay special attention to
class size as they plan their online discussions.
Discussion facilitators may benefit from creating smaller
groups of students to facilitate more manageable discussion
threads (Jones, et al., 2004; Sullivan & Freishtat, 2013),
assigning students as facilitators or peer-reviewers (Baran
& Correia, 2009; Cheung, et al., 2008; Du, et al., 2005;
Rourke & Anderson, 2002), and/or adjusting the timeframe for
participation (Land, et al., 2007). Researchers also
suggest that instructors should actively seek out students
who are new to the online environment in the beginning of
each term (Tyler-Smith, 2006), provide a course check-in
quiz (Brinthaupt, et al., 2011; St. Clair, 2015), and allow
special accommodations for new online learners (Bull, 2014;
education continues to grow, and these evidence-based best
practices grounded in five central ideas (designing
discussion questions; combatting procrastination;
incorporating reflective assignments; utilizing appropriate
grading procedures; and overcoming challenges in large
classes, small classes, and with inexperienced learners) can
assist faculty as they prepare to facilitate successful
discussions in online courses.
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