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The Importance of Online Discussions

In many ways the discussion board is the heart of interactive learning. Here students can reflect on what they are learning, ask questions, learn from each other, and share their insights. More than any other place in the course, this is where the instructor can teach by interacting with students, asking probing questions, and providing feedback and encouragement. Unlike other online content, the discussion forums can quickly be modified and adapted to meet the needs of a particular class or to respond to significant events that impact students.

Discussions also level the playing field. They allow even the most introverted learner to participate, and they encourage the extroverted learner to reflect before responding.  At the very least, discussions provide a way for student-student and student-instructor interaction.   It is a place where the social dimensions of teaching and learning can be cultivated.

Research indicates that effective teaching with online discussions involves four areas of instructor activity:

  1. Establish the ground rules by stating expectations and providing directions.
  2. Construct discussion questions that promote reflection and critical thinking.
  3. Facilitate the discussion.
  4. Assess student learning in the discussion activity.

  Continue to the next page for information on setting the ground rules.