Tips to Encourage Substantive Discussion

A significant amount of learning in an online course occurs within the context of the Learning Community. Individual learners read through course content and then come together in a Discussion Forum to discuss the concepts they have been studying. The quality of the discussion in each Forum determines how much each student learns from their fellow learners, and how much each student contributes to the learning of the others. Therefore, it is important for everyone in the Learning Community to contribute thoughtfully to the conversations that occur in the Discussion Forums.

How can we make sure we are contributing to the learning of our community? Here are some tips on how to respond well to your fellow learners’ posts in a Discussion Forum.

1. Ask open-ended questions.

• Avoid questions that can be answered with simply “yes” or “no.”
• Ask the student to clarify their thoughts for you. Could they give examples of what they assert? • Add a thought to the post – your own idea or do some additional research.
• Keep the discussion going until you reach a summary or conclusion to the questions posed.

2. Ask humbly and graciously for explanations where they are needed. Sometimes someone will write a post that we do not understand, or that needs further explanation to all. Perhaps someone posts something that is in error, or something you disagree with. Here are some gracious ways to extend the discussion or disagree with another student:

• How does ______________ impact what you think about ____________________?
• Can you explain why “_____?”
• How would you answer the objection that “_____?”
• How do you feel about “_____?” (Name something in the readings or the discussion postings.) • Why do you agree (or disagree) on that point?

• What do you mean by the word/expression “_____?”
• You and [other student] seem to disagree. Please explain why you think that is.

Example: Someone writes, “I believe we must believe in Jesus, be baptized in water and live a good life in order to be saved.”

You might ask for an explanation by writing, “How does Ephesians 2:8-9 impact what you think about what is necessary to be saved?” Or, “Can you explain how your understanding fits with the idea that our salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)?”

3. Make a summary statement that pulls together your discussion as it comes to an end. Consider pointing out a related and relevant topic if that would be helpful to the Learning Community.

• I think I would summarize our discussion here by saying “_____.”
• Another issue that we should probably discuss here is “______.”
• Another resource I found helpful on this topic is “_____.” Explain why and how it is helpful. • Another position that could be valid is “____.”
• I am wondering if the converse of this is also true or valid. It seems to me that “____.”

4. Ask for clarification as discussions unfold about ideas you are struggling to understand. You may comment on others’ discussion threads when you do not understand something that has been said.

• Will someone please help me understand the distinction between “_____” and “_____?” • I don’t understand what is meant by “______.” Will someone please explain?

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