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Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions

An online discussion will be most successful when students are motivated by and engaged with the topic. Achieving this goal depends greatly on the topic of the discussion. Here are a few guidelines to help you write effective discussion questions.

Make discussion topics student-centered

  • Questions should invite interpretation and allow students to draw on real-life experience. Connect your discussion to the course content, but expand the topic beyond the course text and materials. Let students borrow from their real-life experience to make sense of concepts.
  • Connecting course content to everyday life for adult students generates more interest in learning.
  • Discussion prompts should be designed to invite students to respond to one another in constructive ways. Like any other discussion, there should be give-and-take. Students should be able to ask for clarification, add something to the topic, draw out details of a point, and so on.

Engage higher order thinking skills

  • Students should have to analyze, evaluate, create, explain, support, hypothesize, and so on. If they are merely recalling, reporting, or such, the discussion question may not be open-ended enough.
  • To help guide students toward thoughtful interaction, be sure to include specific directions for how students should reply to one another. Without guidance, students may post generic comments like, “I really like your ideas.” Help them see ways to extend the conversation by providing direction in how they can reply.
  • Avoid using the discussion tool to collect specific answers about your topics. Students won’t have anything to discuss. Use a quiz or assignment to collect responses you will rate as right or wrong.

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