Creating and sustaining online discussion

Q. Why is online discussion useful? 
Creating opportunities for online discussion is an effective way of supporting students’ language skills. Moreover, the majority of both Home and EU students now entering university have grown up with online communication via social networking sites and many expect that their university learning experience will incorporate these technologies.

Online discussion supports learning in the following ways:

  • By increasing opportunities for students to read and write about their subject
  • By making it easier for less confident students to contribute to class discussion
  • By fostering supportive relationships and a sense of community amongst students

Q. How might I incorporate online discussion in my teaching?

There are many ways of introducing online discussion to your students, but before doing so it is important that you clarify how it will support their learning. Simply asking students to share their thoughts and ideas on a blog is unlikely to work unless they can clearly see the reasons for doing so. It’s also important that you are prepared to participate in the online discussion as tutor presence is as important online as it is in the physical classroom. Building on the reasons listed above, here are some examples of how you might introduce online discussion:

Create a class blog and post a weekly discussion question
Setting up a class blog is quick and easy, but it can be a powerful way of stimulating discussion with a new group of students. The Postgraduate course at UCA Farnham used a class blog to encourage less confident students to feel connected to the course. At the end of the first lesson, students were asked to upload a link to one of their favourite songs and write a few sentences about why they liked the song. The tutor also shared a link to one of her favourite songs. This activity was a great ice-breaker as it enabled students to share something about which they were passionate and encouraged them to comment on other students’ songs. Here are some more suggestions for kick-starting conversation:

7 conversation starters to stimulate discussion

Students who are sometimes too shy to contribute to class discussion often prefer online discussion as they have time to think about what they want to say before sharing it with the group. In addition, providing students with the abiliity to converse with each other online can foster a sense of community around the cohort. The following articles provides further reading about the benefits of creating an online learning community around your course:

4 reasons to build an online learning community
Make the community about your members

Use Twitter to encourage communication and collaboration
Despite the exponential increase in the use of Twitter many people are still unaware of its potential to enhance learning and discussion. Several courses at UCA have created a course Twitter account which they use to send messages and share links to useful resources with their students. Here are some tips for using Twitter in the classroom:

60 inspiring examples of Twitter in the classroom
50 ways to use Twitter in the classroom
Using Twitter for teaching and research

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