94 Effective Practices for Teaching with Online Discussions

Effective Practices for Teaching with Online Discussions

The Purpose of Discussion

Brookfield and Preskill (1999) outline the purpose of discussion as a way to (1) develop a deeper understanding of the content domain, (2) to improve self-awareness and ability to critique self, (3) to appreciate diverse/different viewpoints emerging from the group, and (4) to trigger informed action and change.

Asynchronous Discussions

#1: Create the Right Environment 

The basics: Creating the right environment can be a very important first step in structuring online discussions. This document, Online Dialogue and Discussion, outlines several elements to help create a hospitable and welcoming environment for participation in online discussions.


#2: Develop Online Discussion Grading Rubrics 

The basics: In order to set expectations and reinforce guidelines for discussions, consider developing an Online Discussion Grading Rubric.  If you are looking for examples or a starting point to create your own rubric, this document, Online Discussion Rubrics, offers two examples: a basic rubric and a detailed rubric.


#3: Allow for Student Self-Assessment 

The basics: Allow students an opportunity to reflect on their individual contributions and identify their strengths and areas for improving future discussion participation based on course objectives. This document, Self-Assessment and Online Discussion Groups, outlines this strategy in more detail


#4: Implement a Social Loafing Policy 

The basics: Social Loafing occurs when a member or a workgroup does not participate or contribute meaningfully to the overall work of the group but tries to take credit for the group’s output or product (Karau and Williams, 1993). This Strategies to Minimize Social Loafing document contains sample course policy language that may serve as a starting point to implement this strategy.


#5: Consider Utilizing Role Assignment 

The basics: The research literature suggests that the assignment of roles for the use in online discussion boards can be a valuable structuring tool, particularly if the roles are introduced at the start of discussions. This document, Roles in Online Discussion Groups, contains a brief synopsis of role assignments, as well as references.

Synchronous Discussions

#6: Use Zoom for Synchronous Online Discussion 

The basics: In an online/hybrid course, schedule a time for all students to congregate online at the same time.  Utilize Adobe Connect Pro to facilitate online discussions between students. Instructors can facilitate synchronous online lectures, presentations, and Q&As using Zoom. More support resources can be found on the Zoom page. 


#7: Establish General Ground Rules for Synchronous Meetings 

The basics: Online synchronous discussions can become a messy back and forth with too many people trying to communicate at the same time.  Establishing general ground rules for communication in your synchronous meeting can prove to be very beneficial to your discussions. It will also set expectations for your participants. This document, Synchronous Online Discussion contains some language on how you might approach this.


#8: Facilitate Student Self-Reflection After Synchronous Meeting

The basics: After your class has met in an online synchronous environment, facilitate student self-reflection to allow feedback on the concepts and discussions addressed in the meeting.




Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Karau and Williams (1993). Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(4), pp. 681 – 706.


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