Robust discussions help learners step outside of their academic comfort zones and step into a safe learning community in which they can explore and think creatively.
Start by helping learners share their stories in ice breakers. The students will get to know each other more quickly and you will be able to refer to interests and goals a student has shared when you give that student feedback throughout the course.
Establish a predictable pattern for discussions throughout the course. You can enlist your learners in determining the best time of the week for individual preparation and the best time for active discussion.
Organize discussion activities with clear and detailed instructions. Introduce the discussion with a brief video. Your visual presence will be engaging. Give a deadline for when learners should make their first post in the discussion. This helps everyone show up and stay connected.
Author questions that will help learners
Would it be beneficial for the learners to clarify, compare and contrast, identify cause and effect, perform analysis?
Have students begin the discussion with an initial statement. This strategy helps learners organize their thinking. This could come in the form of
Set a regular pattern of collecting statements from students that help you identify areas where students are confused, need more resources, or have found meaning that motivates their learning. Collection of the student feedback could be in the form of online discussion prior to the coming classroom period (i.e., Entrance Ticket). Student statements could also serve as a summary of their learning for a local classroom session or as a synthesis of group learning in an online discussion (i.e., Exit Ticket).
See the graphic, How Can We Take Common Teaching Strategies Online, for a version of think-pair-share in online discussions.
There are many possibilities, here is one description:
Learners are divided into groups that are paired in order to conduct debates. Each debate group is given a private forum in which they can prepare. Each paired debate group is given a a Debate Arena forum into which all other paired debate groups are invited to observe their debate. The observing groups are given survey forms in which they can adjudicate the debates they observe.
Develop several perspectives on a problem that is presented in the topic being studied. Assign groups to each perspective. Groups are given private forums in which they prepare. Each group gives a presentation followed by questions from the other groups. All groups work together to find connections that demonstrate how all the perspectives address the problem and contribute to a solution.