Illustration of Man Using Tablet to CommunicateOnline discussions are a great way to get students writing, thinking, and interacting with each other when they can’t be in a classroom together. They can enhance face-to-face classes, too – when students think critically about a topic before in-person discussions, it helps create richer conversations.

But creating and facilitating meaningful online student discussions isn’t always easy. Here are some tips to get students to think deeper through online discussion:

1. Establish norms

We’ve all seen how discussions on the internet can go from zero to irrational-shouting-match in a matter of minutes. You probably want to avoid that in your course. Discussion board posts should be professional but also allow for learners to engage in the earnest exchange of ideas. To achieve this, set expectations from the start. We recommend using a guide to online etiquette like this one with your class.

2. Create strong prompts

Discussion board prompts are often the make-or-break factor for an engaging conversation. To get students engaged, design open-ended prompts that ask students to really grapple with the content (and maybe even each other a little bit). And, of course, they should be text-based and aligned to your learning outcomes.

3. Guide from the side & let students lead

Discussion boards are all about student-to-student interaction. If you create strong prompts, it should lead to conversations that flourish without much instructor encouragement. But, at the same time, a discussion board is no set-it-and-forget activity. The instructor should be monitoring the board daily to ask probing questions, correct misconceptions, and share relevant resources.

4. Give feedback

Like any other activity, students need feedback to improve their discussion board communications. What do you want to see in their posts? Connection to content? Analytical thinking? Professional communication? Whatever it is, let students know in a timely, specific, and targeted to way to see improvement.

5. Change it up

Variety is the spice of life…and online discussions. Don’t ask students to submit the same type of discussion post each week. Try having them submit audio or video, do a peer review, write a collaborative document, or something else!

Want some help setting up a discussion board on Canvas? Visit their “How do I create a discussion as an instructor?” page.