Improving Student Participation in Online Discussions

Updated on April 10, 2014

Online discussions are an important component of any course, whether it is online, on-ground, or somewhere in between. They provide a venue for student-student and student-instructor interactions, potentially enriching course communications and increasing course engagement. However, many instructors can find effectively incorporating discussions a challenge.

A recent article, Structure and Expectations Can Improve Student Participation in Online Discussions, suggests ways you can improve your students’ participation in discussions. You might also consider the types of discussion prompts used. Discussion Board Assignments: Alternatives to the Question-and-Answer Format details approaches you might use for discussions, such as debates and role-playing, while “Post once, reply twice”: uninspiring online discussion boards and what to do about them has suggestions for how instructors might apply problem-based learning principles to them. In addition, you might also consider assigning student to be moderators, as detailed in Encouraging Online Learner Participation.

Perhaps you have tried online discussions and get plenty of participation, but face issues such as conflict and tangential or unsubstantial contributions? Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges provides a variety of solutions worth considering for scenarios you may have or might face. Another great resource—especially for the visually-oriented—is an infographic, Why aren’t your students participating on the Discussion Board? Its flowchart format guides instructors through troubleshooting their approach to online discussions.