Creating Awesome Online Discussions

We can use the discussion tool for so much more. With some tweaking, we can make a fairly boring tool into something that is engaging for students and increases the depth of student learning.

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation called “A Tour of Blended Learning Ideas” with Maria Peraino (@marperaino) at the ‘On the Rise K-12” conference this year. Several of the ideas that Maria covered involved creating better online discussions for students so that the use of the vLE isn’t dreaded by students in the same way it often is by teachers taking online AQ courses.

“Ahhhh I have to respond to three others that wrote about the same thing!! I can’t take this anymore!!”

If our students think that discussion posting is useless and not at all entertaining, it likely means that it is useless and not at all entertaining. We know this because we often feel the same way when we have to make contrived discussions posts in courses we take. It’s not that our jobs are about entertaining students, but we do need to make discussions at least tolerable.

If we can expand our understanding of the tool to get beyond just ‘discussions’ but see it as a platform for other creative ways to explore a topic, we’ll find a much richer level of learning. We can, maybe, even have some fun with it.

One example of this, that can be applied to any subject, is ‘in character’ discussions. After learning about and discussing a topic in class, a teacher can assign character roles to the students that are relative to the topic. In a science class, some students can play the role of homeowner, environmentalist, business person, scientist, mayor, etc. They can write their discussion posts as their character and then reply to others in character as well. They layer of critical inquiry and thinking about the topic is expanded as the students are forced to think about the situation from a different point of view. Put simply: it adds a layer of awesome.

Likewise, students could write in a small group discussion from the point of view of characters in a novel, or as people from different countries sharing about the geography of their home country and answer questions from fellow students.

A topic could be discussed from the point of view of someone from the present, past and future. How about getting students to write fictional letters to the editor in the discussion tool and have others reply as a different character. Or one student can interview another in a discussion, fictional or otherwise.

Students can play a collaborative creative writing game in a discussion by continuing a story where another student left off. There’s many possibilities.

As we know, getting students to think from different points of view is a vital part of critical literacy. It gets students thinking about motivations, interpretations, perspectives, conflicting interests, and diversity. Such an ‘in character’ activity can take a simple discussion task and jack it right up Bloom’s scale with very little additional effort or preparation from the teacher. Good for the teacher, great for the students.

There’s other great uses for discussions that Maria covered in our presentation and I’d like to blog about about them in the future, but the most important take-home is just that the discussion tool can be used for so much more than common discussion drudgery.



  1. Pingback: Blended Learning: Creating Awesome Online Discussions | E-Learning and Online Teaching Today
  2. kbv7001 · April 8, 2014

    Reblogged this on technologylearning and commented:
    Good ideas to expand online discussion away from “busy work”

  3. You two definitely inspired me to use the discussion tool in exciting ways that have already started happening in my class! Thank you for reminding me now of the ‘in character / role’ potential ‘layer of awesome’. That can be our next step!

    • Tim Robinson · April 8, 2014

      I’m so glad you found it helpful. We were worried about whether or not the “whirlwind tour” approach would work. We just wanted to send people home with a handful of ideas to try out themselves. 🙂

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