The online classroom is gaining ground and popularity. The challenge for teachers at any level is figuring out how to foster a class discussion when all eyes are on a screen, at different times, rather than directly in front of you all at once. A successful class discussion can be difficult when you are in the same room as your students, but engaging students in another room, building or state requires another level of effort. What are some teaching tips you can employ?

Common problems in the online classroom

When it comes to online classrooms, most cater to adult learners who are working Monday through Friday and doing their coursework in the evenings or on the weekend. As a result, a common problem for these students when it comes to class discussion requirements revolves around due dates. Teaching tips for fostering online classroom discussions include creating due dates. The problem arises, for many adult learners, when that deadline falls during the week. Giving students the weekend to complete an assignment can eliminate that problem.

What if the issue is simply that students aren’t delving deeply enough into the class discussion topic, posting brief or shallow answers? This might be the most difficult situation to tackle. One way to handle it is by establishing clear expectations from the start. If you find that even with guidelines students are still superficial in their responses, don’t be afraid to call them out to prompt more thoughtful answers.

Engaging students that are reticent

Another common problem when it comes to class discussion is students who are hesitant to engage at all. The Monitor, a publication of the American Psychological Association, looked to psychology professors for tips on engaging students in online classrooms.

A class discussion where you don’t see each other can be void of personal experience and connection. At the start of any online class, it can be helpful if the students have the opportunity to introduce themselves, hopefully uncovering some common interests, and encouraging better relationships. If additional effort is required to foster discussions, consider assigning students different roles in the conversation. Have someone serve as moderator; someone else can focus on the pro side of the topic, while someone else can play devil’s advocate and point out potential issues or problems.

Questia is a great tool for teaching tips, articles and other information on the online classroom for any age group. For instance, an article in the May 2013 issue of District Administration by Alison DeNisco suggested that one way to help teachers understand the challenges with online learning is to have the experience of taking a class online themselves.

What are the most effective teaching tips you’ve discovered for engaging students in the online classroom? Let us know in the comments.