4. Discussion list – moderated in discipline area

Discussion lists are used to focus on specific topics within the discipline area. Academic staff design and actively moderate discussion topics which are usefully organised around authentic problems, scenarios, cases or situations.

The purpose of these discussions is to generate deeper exploration and application of topics relevant to the discipline area. Students collaborate to apply subject learnings and theory to evaluate and address these authentic ‘real world’ concerns. Academic staff play an active and important role in encouraging students to apply their learning to specific questions or scenarios and to extend the development of their argument or analysis, and provide guidance on accuracy and applicability when required.

How to implement this in your subject

Step one: communicate and model expectations

At the start of the teaching period, explain your expectations of the discussions and introduce and model protocols and etiquette. For example, you could:

  • Outline the value of authentic, problem-based learning or case study discussions
  • Align activities explicitly to subject intended learning outcomes assessment tasks
  • Provide students with expectations of posting frequency, word limits and deadlines
  • Use an example to model the desired depth and development of interaction and collaboration
  • Let students know what they can expect of you: plan the days and times that you will actively moderate the discussion and share this with students.

Step two: create discussions in your LMS subject

Create the discussions in your LMS subject. Use a consistent structure for all discussions to ensure students are clear about the discussion task alignment, requirements and expectations. Case studies or authentic examples could be presented as video or audio files, images, recorded debates or readings. Embed these at the top of the Canvas discussion, or create a separate page with a pre-requisite task to be followed by the discussion page.

Step three: moderate the discussions

Most discussion threads should be moderated by academic staff, unless there is a specific reason not to (such as a student-moderated thread). Encourage student initiative as the discussion develops by extending their ideas with open questions, requests for clarification, explanation or citation, and by linking different threads or thoughts to one another. Provoke discussion through clear questions and subject-related controversies, cases, scenarios, issues or problems. However, be mindful not to dominate the discussion as this can discourage student interaction. Acknowledge students when they make valuable contributions, share links to resources and help other students.

Step four: summarise, follow up and integrate topics into your subject

Summarise the general attributes of the student discussions, clarify any confusions and summarise outcomes. Follow up by outlining or providing links to applicable solutions, assessments and/or analyses. Show that you value the discussion process and students’ contributions by referencing discussion posts in other aspects of your subject.

You could do this in:

  • An end-of-week summary in the discussion thread
  • A weekly announcement or video ‘mailbag’
  • A lecture or recording
  • A webinar
  • A Canvas quiz (graded or ungraded) or similar activity to provide students with feedback on their understanding and learning from the discussion activity.

Support and resources

For self-paced learning on discussions, self-enrol in Canvas: Learn at your own pace and complete the module on Canvas: Communication and collaboration.

For examples and templates, log in to the LMS and go to the Commons link in the global navigation. Search for Designing and facilitating (asynchronous & unassessed) online discussions. You can then import the Designing and facilitating (asynchronous & unassessed) online discussions resource into your Playpen subject and adapt as needed for your subject.

You can use this guide to implement the 2020 category two Learning and Teaching Initiatives.