Tips and Best Practices for Online Discussions

How can online discussions enhance your teaching?

Online discussions are a great place to start when considering how to take your teaching online, whether it’s for distance education, building a sense of community, supporting introverted students or just changing up the learning experience, these are all great reasons to consider taking your discussions online.

An important benefit of online discussions is that they can be used in and for a variety of different tasks, and assignments. They can be done asynchronously, within a time span set by you, as a culminating task to understand students learning, or as a way to introduce a topic or spark new ideas. However you decide to use it, it will become a staple activity that is inclusive and actively engages your students in their learning process.

online discussions

Why choose online discussions?

Online discussions don’t have to be boring. They get students deeply engaged in their learning and feel connected to their classmates. When students are able to share their ideas, make connections, and engage in higher order thinking, it leads to a richer learning experience.

Parlay makes discussions inclusive. Our efficacy study – Inclusive Engagement in K-12 Class Discussions, showed students who participated in Parlay discussions felt more comfortable participating. It also showed the average participation rate was 88%, this is 43% higher than a regular in-class discussion. One grade 10 student said about the experience: “I feel like it was easier to get my ideas out or if a point I wanted to speak on passed I could just write it in the notes, and still show my understanding, I also felt like it was easy to get a chance to speak.”

Online discussions can also give every student, whether extroverted or introverted a chance to participate in their own way, on their own time. One of Parlay’s key features is secret identities, these span a spectrum of influential people from throughout history and are randomly assigned to students. When they are enabled during the discussion, students can focus on the ideas, instead of who is saying what, and participate without fear of judgement.

Best practices for online discussions.

Set intentions and expectations

Participating in an academic, online discussion is often a new experience, and students need opportunities to observe and build good habits. Make sure to set intentions and expectations for how your students should be participating in online discussions. A great way to do that is to set rules, and reiterate class goals to be constructive and respectful during an online discussion. This will set your students up for success when communicating in a digital format.

We created a useful resource to help you do that, share this with your students before the discussion: The Student ‘Textbook’. Remind students  that when they’re participating in an online discussion at home, it is as important as ever to be present and authentically engage with their classmates as they discuss the topic and share their ideas.

Need more resources for the best way to teach your students digital citizenship? Read Digital Citizenship Toolkit – How to Respond to Online Negativity.

Model a thoughtful online community

Digital citizenship is key in helping to make the online community a better space for students, but it is also important to consider ways to incorporate social-emotional learning as well.

In some ways because face-to-face interaction isn’t possible students may feel slightly disconnected. A great way to deal with that is to give your students open-ended prompts which really give students a voice in determining what direction they want to go in your online discussions.

For more on this read – Building Community in the Classroom – The Key is Communication.

Scaffold the discussion and give examples

Give step-by-step instructions that create clear intentions for how the online discussion tool is supposed to be used. With clear communication and set intentions, students will be well prepared for participating in any online discussion.

A great way to introduce this to your students is to have a discussion about it. We created an introductory discussion which you can use with your students to get them used to using Parlay.

Getting the Most out of Online Learning

With Parlay, many teachers have been using the Online RoundTable to prepare students for video calls and discussions on platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. Students would first watch a video or read an article, respond to the discussion questions, THEN build on and give feedback to their peers’ ideas. Doing an Online RoundTable first prepares students for the video session, and having already shared their initial thoughts.

Put emphasis on feedback

Online learning is a process for everyone, getting used to new ways of learning can be tricky and takes dedication and time. Feedback from yourself to students or between students is a great way to amplify what you’re looking for in a productive and engaging online discussion.

With careful notes and constructive feedback to your students on how they can improve their participation in an online discussion, students will know how to proceed in future discussions. This is a great way to get students feeling supported and prepared.

When you have your discussions in Parlay it gives you clear oversight on how your students are participating to one another. This makes giving clear feedback even easier.

It takes time and practice

This is a reminder for you and your students. Don’t beat yourself up. Online discussions take time to get used to. The first 1 or 5 may not be great, but with patience and practice you and your class will be able to communicate online in asynchronous discussions with no problem. Just follow these tips and best practices and you’ll be on your way to creating engaging online learning experiences.

For more discussion topics to get you started read, Teaching Digital Citizenship – 8 Discussions to Get Your Class Started. These online discussions will have your students practicing digital citizenship as they’re learning about it and are great for modelling best practices of digital citizenship.