Multi-Stage Online Discussion

Fostering Ongoing Conversation Among Your Students

Successful Classroom Discussions Require Guidance

In a face-to-face classroom, the instructor's role is to serve as presenter, moderator, and gentle motivator.  This role remains the same in online spaces, but takes place in a different way — in particular, you need to provide more cohesive "up front" directions for your students to ensure they post material that is sufficiently detailed and focused to keep the conversation going.

On this page, I've provided some information about why online discussions should take place in stages, and then an example of a discussion-in-stages for students to plan a writing assignment with input from their peers.

Why Have Multiple Stages of Online Discussion

Challenges of Online Discussions

For me, one shortcoming of online discussions is their tendency to be one-directional — students post ideas, you might require them to post responses to each other, but then the conversation itself fizzles.  Although students may post very long and thoughtful posts — in many ways, they'll share better information than you're likely to hear during a full-class face-to-face discussion — there isn't much room for back-and-forth communication.

Multiple Stages Encourage Evolution of Student Thinking

This multi-stage discussion is one attempt at addressing this.  Rather than assigning a conversation at a set point in a module, the multi-stage discussion would require multiple posts spread across different stages of the module.  This provides two key advantages:

Project Guidance Discussion

Naturally, getting students fully engaged in a writing project is difficult.  This discussion is designed to meet the following UDL guidelines:

This will be a discussion board that takes place in three stages across the module.  At each stage, students will be interacting with their group members by posting ideas for what they'd like to write about and providing feedback for their classmates.

Stage 1: Initial Writing Plan (following lecture)

In Stage 1 of the discussion, students will introduce the the topics that they plan on writing about for this module.  This will be a rather broad introduction — I'm looking for students to focus on the ideas they care about, and to explain which aspects of those ideas they'd like to focus on.  For this assignment, either a written submission, an audio recording, or a video clip can be used to fulfill the requirements.

The following questions will be used as prompts for each student:

Stage 2: Suggestions from the Readings

In Stage 2, students will post replies to their group members.  Here, I want students to use the readings as a way to offer advice and suggestions for each other's work.  For example, if one student says "I'm planning on looking at how video games get people to want to play them," another student might reply "Have you considered the advertising angle?  The second reading with the McDonald's billboard showed how images can draw customers — do video game ads have the same effect?"

Stage 3: Updated Writing Plan (following Guide to Assignment)

In Stage 3, each student will post a reply to their own initial thread.  Here, I want each student explaining their thoughts on the concepts so far and how that will affect their approaches to writing.  Incorporating the assignment directions and group feedback, each student should have a coherent and comprehensive plan for researching, organizing, and writing their assignment.  Here are the post prompts: