Online Discussions

5 Real World Applications

Throughout this section, we’ve talked a lot about the four roles of the online instructor and have heard about common instructional challenges with online discussions. As we have seen, there is quite a bit of overlap with certain components of the four roles when facilitating an actual online discussion in a course. Likewise, not all of the four roles address all of the potential instructional challenges with online discussions; some respond better to certain challenges than others. Let’s put all of these elements together and brainstorm some real-world solutions for how to manage and apply them in a course.

We’ve built these activities to get you started on working online discussions into your own course plan and to reimagine syllabi for future semesters that might now incorporate online discussions.

3-modesC Practice & Apply

Option 1: Less time investment

We’ve listed four different general instructional scenarios below. Based on the scenarios listed and the two instructional challenges (primary and secondary) indicated for each, decide how each of the four roles can help you meet those challenges and how you might implement elements of these four roles in order to resolve or address these challenges. This can mean brainstorming activities, tech solutions, communications, or pedagogical approaches that fall under those roles and help to meet those challenges.


  1. A course in which the students are not engaging with the lecture or the course materials. Mid-sized lecture (60 students), meets 2x/week, entirely face-to-face course.
    Challenges: Community Building (primary) and Critical Thinking (secondary)
  2. A small language or other intensive course (upper-level seminar?) where students are immersed in and/or very familiar with course material. 20 students, meets 4x/week, entirely face-t0-face with hybrid elements (online homework, online office hours, etc.).
    Challenges: Critical Thinking (primary) and Discourse (secondary)
  3. An 8-week-long distance education course with synchronous pacing but asynchronous discussion activities. Approx. 30 students of varying levels, regular instructor online check-ins with students (weekly?), entirely online.
    Challenges: Participation (primary) and Community Building (secondary)
  4. A college/department prereq course that repeats each semester and that you teach often. Large lecture (100+ students), meets 1x/week, lecture + weekly discussion format, face-to-face with hybrid elements (online office hours, flipped lectures, student project creation in a LMS, etc.).
    Challenges: Discourse (primary) and Participation (secondary)


  1. Participation: Generating enough participation
  2. Discourse: Too informal (or too formal) level of discourse
  3. Critical Thinking: Encouraging critical thinking: synthesizing information and creating connections to other students’ comments
  4. Community Building: Building community and an online “comfort” level

Option 2: More time investment

  • Take one of the 4 instructional scenarios listed above and imagine what a typical class discussion might entail. How might you integrate online discussions into a course like this? Use your chosen instructional scenario as a template, and redesign one class period in order to accommodate an online discussion component.
  • Create a lesson plan of your own for your specific course that integrates online discussions. This can be a lesson plan for one day, for one week, or (if you have time and a vision for how this might work) for an entire online discussion semester-long component.


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Teaching with Technology Copyright © 2015 by Steel Wagstaff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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