3. Discussion list – moderated general

Discussion lists of a general nature allow students to connect with each other around material that is presented in the subject. Students provide peer-to-peer engagement and support, and staff moderate to answer questions, direct traffic and provide encouragement and suggestions.

General discussions are a good way to encourage informal social interactions, to develop a sense of cohort and to address the sense of isolation that students may feel when studying online. They are a means to establish a sense of teacher presence in your subject, and can help to reduce your workload in response to student inquiries, as your responses can be seen by the full cohort or specific tutorial group.

How to implement this in your subject

Step one: decide the purpose of your discussion

Effective discussions require a clear purpose. Some options include:

Week one introductions

This ‘ice-breaker’ activity helps students to develop a sense of cohort and to engage and orient themselves in the subject.

Assessment task threads

Often if one student has questions related to a specific assessment task, then others do too. Encourage students to post questions to a discussion thread about that task, rather than email you individually.

Resource sharing

Encourage to share resources, media and links they have found helpful for learning a topic.

Social thread

Consider creating an unmoderated thread for students to share topics of interest, news and events.

Step two: communicate and model expectations

Student expectations of you

Students can sometimes mistake ‘online’ to mean ‘teacher is always available’. Set realistic expectations by letting students know how and when you will moderate discussions. Let them know:

  • How many days until they can expect a reply
  • Any days/hours you won’t be replying
  • The method of responding (for example reply to individual post, or reply in end-of-week summary).

Your expectations of students

At the start of the teaching period, explain your expectations for discussions, such as being concise, encouraging friendly conversation and being respectful or others. It is important to also model these behaviours and interactions in the discussion.

Step three: create discussions in your LMS subject

Create the discussions in your LMS subject. Give each discussion thread a name to communicate the purpose. Add any relevant resources and links (such as links to assessment task information and rubric) to the discussion instructions.

Step four: 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). You can answer questions, provide encouragement, suggestions and at times provocations. 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 five: summarise, follow up and integrate topics into your subject

Summarise the general attributes of the student discussions, clarify any confusions and summarise outcomes. 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:

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.

The FOLD website focuses on fostering asynchronous online discussion in higher education.