Tips for Online Students: Participating in Class Discussions

When you take a course online, it’s important to contribute your thoughts and ideas in class discussions — and not just for the grade. When you actively engage in conversations, you learn more by reflecting on the subject matter, sharing ideas and perspectives with others, and questioning and thinking critically about responses.

There are three vital steps to take when posting in a discussion thread:

  1. Take time to think about how to respond to a discussion prompt
  2. Craft a thorough response
  3. Edit your post before it is saved

But truly engaging in conversations goes well beyond that. Here are some tips you can use to get the most from, and contribute the most to, your online course discussions.

Open Up the Conversation
Post brief responses to several of your classmates’ posts. This helps you expand your understanding of different topics and perspectives.

Ask questions about the discussion topics, and ask for your peers’ advice in answering them.

Point out interesting facts or points from other classmate’s posts, and follow up with your own thoughts about their points.

Ask your classmates to brainstorm ideas with you, especially for upcoming assignments, papers, and presentations. MindMeister is a great tool for collaborative brainstorming and can be hyperlinked directly in a discussion reply.

Give Examples
• Apply course content to a real-life example, experience, or observation. Ask your classmates to provide their own stories and observations.

• Tie responses to current events locally and globally. Indicate how discussions and course topics are related to specific situations or events.

• Suggest new ways to apply the subjects you’re learning about. Try to predict the future and explain why a future outcome or situation is plausible.

Share Resources
• Share links to web resources related to the specific discussion thread. Most learning management systems (such as Canvas at Colorado State University) allow students to hyperlink within the text editor window of their responses.

• Bring additional research into the discussion. Cite authors who support ideas being conveyed and share scholarly articles to promote further discussion of topics. Attach PDF files to discussion responses so other students can read them.

• Share information about cultural similarities or differences that relate to what you’re discussing.

Enhance with Multimedia
Create a video or audio file instead of a text response. Just because you’re in front of a computer doesn’t mean you can’t have verbal discussions! Many online learning platforms, such as Canvas, have this feature built in.

• Post images in the discussion threads to support your thoughts and ideas. There’s truth in the notion that pictures are worth a thousand words. Note: be sure to credit the photo source.

• Draw a picture or diagram to illustrate a point. Then, use your smartphone or digital camera to photograph it and upload it to the discussion. Ask for your classmates’ feedback about the image.

Also Remember
• Answer each part of the discussion prompts; remember to use “who, what, why, when, where, how” in your reply to cover every aspect needed to create a substantive post.

• It is okay to disagree politely with classmates’ responses. This makes for rich discussion. When doing so however, be sure to use proper “netiquette.” Disagreement is healthy, especially when it’s backed up by supporting evidence.

• Be respectful of individual differences and opinions. Share ideas while being thoughtful when crafting your responses. Avoid harsh language or placing blame on others. Take ownership of your ideas by using “I” language (e.g., “I believe, I feel, I think”) instead of “you” language (e.g., “you should, you might, you didn’t”).

• It is also okay to agree with others’ responses, however always try to contribute something new and interesting to the conversation.

• Use the names of classmates in the threads as well; this helps build connection and trust among your fellow students. People pay attention when their names are mentioned!

• Last but not least, use good grammar and spelling. Your ideas will come across as more credible this way, and, it will always benefit your grade.

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  • Amelia Roster

    Most of the tips work great for my MOOC courses too.