On its face, an asynchronous conversation conducted via a discussion board may not seem as personal or immediate as a conversation that takes place in a more traditional classroom. However, an online discussion can be just as spirited, enlightening, and engaging as one taking place in the face-to-face environment — if it is facilitated well.

How can you, as an instructor, help students gain the full benefit of discussions in your online course? In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, contributors Erping Zhu and Matthew Kaplan offer the following tips:

  • Create a comfortable atmosphere for the online discussion, for example:

– Be an active participant.

– Bring your own experiences to the discussion.

– Use personal anecdotes when appropriate.

– Do not dominate a discussion or let a few students dominate it.

– Challenge students without silencing them.

  • Ask questions at different levels (e.g., knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation).
  • Paraphrase a message if it is not clear.
  • Encourage active student participation.
  • Energize the online discussion if needed (e.g., using role plays, simulations, and pros and cons).
  • Bring closure to an online discussion (e.g., summarizing learning points). (p. 248)

Reference: Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Do you teach online? If so, what methods for building community have you found successful? Share them with us in the comments.