Best Practices for Asynchronous Discussions

March 5, 2020 Posted by Maria Ocando Finol, Educational Technology Specialist

Moving instruction online does not mean that students and teachers cannot interact with each other, create a community, or engage in stimulating discussions. Among the easiest ways to keep communication going are Forums. To add a Forum to your Moodle course, follow these step-by-step instructions and helpful information on the different types of forums and settings.

Forums facilitate asynchronous communication among all course members. While it is easy to assume that they are less engaging than in-person discussions, many teachers report that students’ participation increases during asynchronous communication. 

Most commonly, Forums are used to start simple discussions focused on a single topic. Teachers post a question or prompt and students reply to it, individually. When doing so, teachers can choose between settings that allow students to view all responses upon entering the Forum, or only after they have posted their own comment. Some instructors also like using Forums as a space for students to discuss assignments, homework, due dates, and general questions about the topic they are studying, without teacher intervention.

However you decide to use this feature, here are some tips that will help you succeed:

  • Post a schedule for discussion forums on your main page. Let students know that you will be posting a question by a specific time and day, and that their replies should be posted by your desired deadline. Because your students are likely juggling assignments from different courses, your goal is to give them sufficient time to get done with readings or reflections they will need to complete before posting a response.
  • Create thought-provoking questions or prompts. This is an excellent way to make up for the lack of in-class peer conversations, whole-group discussions, or even debates. Keep in mind that during face-to-face instruction, teachers usually mediate discussions by asking follow-up questions. Because this is more difficult to do online, make sure to post your own reply to students' answers, or to ask comprehensive questions from the start.
  • Set ground rules and expectations. Set students up for success by listing basic guidelines on how to use the discussion board. Do you want students to post a certain number of replies to their classmates? Should they post before or after reading an article? What language should they use to address their classmates? Be intentional about what you want students to achieve and about communicating how they can best reach those outcomes.