Students in online courses that include discussions frequently complain the task is a burden, the discussions are disappointing, and they contribute little to their building of new knowledge. Students report that the prompts used to focus discussions can make the board more interesting. If the prompt simply has them restate information from a text, they find it uninteresting. If the prompt has them apply or extend or connect the text, then the discussion is more interesting.
Further, they complain that it can be difficult to respond to others’ posts. A student once told me, “There are only so many ways to say ‘I agree’ in creative ways.” One strategy online instructors can use to facilitate engaging online discussions is to provide prompts that students use to respond to each other.
Reply to posts with sentences that start with…
- “If you are right, that means, we will have to….” (find consequences)
- “You are right that _, but you seem to have forgotten _.” (introduce new perspective)
- “I wonder if you thought about … when you wrote this.” (point out missing pieces)
- “Would you have written _, if you were _?” (make the writer defend statements)
- “I wonder what would happen if….?” (now what? or so what?)
- “I wish you had told me more about….” (requires the responder to look and read also)
- “You are probably right because I once experienced/ saw.…” (find illustrative examples)
- “You might be wrong because I once observed/ saw.…” (find contrary examples)
- “I hope you go back and include _ in your answer.” (adding detail or perspective)
- “I agree/ disagree (strongly or weakly). You could change my mind by….” (adding details and perspective)
Both students and faculty observe the replies that follow prompts such as those I have provided are brief. Often, a few sentences is sufficient to answer these prompts. Despite the brevity, the prompts do focus and scaffold students’ attention in ways that lead to deeper examination.