Asynchronous discussions have long been a feature in online classes as a way to provide opportunities for students to interact with each other and build a community. Many instructors included asynchronous discussions in their remote instruction classes this past year to achieve this same goal. Even if you are teaching in-person this semester, asynchronous discussions can be a useful component to your class as they give opportunities for students to interact outside of scheduled class time and allow for students who are participating remotely to still engage with the class community. It also ensures that in the case of short-term disruptions, students can still interact with each other in an organized setting.
RTL provides example instructions, prompts, and rubrics for implementing successful asynchronous discussions on the Engage Students Through Discussion page, which is part of the DLS Core Template Getting Started Guide. Additionally, there are different approaches and types of activities you can use in asynchronous discussions to increase student engagement.
The following strategies are adapted from the chapter “Developing Asynchronous Online Discussion Boards to Increase Student Engagement and Learning” from Handbook of Research on Developing Engaging Online Courses. [CalNet Login required.]
If you are teaching a large class, you can divide students into small groups to ensure that all students have a voice and more easily follow the discussion. It can create a greater sense of community within the large class setting. bCourses groups allow you to easily divide students into small groups and assign the same discussion assignment to all of them.
A jigsaw activity is where students in small groups discuss a specific topic and develop an approach for teaching the topic to their peers. The groups then mix where each student in the new group is an expert on a different topic. CTL previously spotlighted jigsaws as an effective in-class active learning activity, but you can use this same approach for an asynchronous discussion. Again, using bCourses groups, you can put students in several different small groups for this activity. Another approach is to place students in small groups and give each student in that group a different question to answer, rather than having them switch.
A word cloud is a visual representation of word frequency and importance in a specific text through the size of the words in the image. You can create a word cloud of an important text from your class and have students reflect on what words appear to have the greatest importance and why. [Note: If you have a student who needs an accommodation, be sure to work with the Disabled Students’ Program to ensure they can participate.]
Images and Videos
Discussions do not have to be centered only on text responses. It can be useful to students and appeal to different student needs to incorporate a discussion that asks students to post an image or video response. This can include an activity such as asking students to create a product and then share an image of it with the rest of the class or simply allowing students to respond to a typical discussion prompt with a video reply. [Note: If you have a student who needs an accommodation, be sure to work with the Disabled Students’ Program to ensure they can participate.]
RTL supports three online discussion tools: bCourses discussions, Ed Discussions, or Piazza. Learn more about all three on the Online Discussions service page. The Asset Library, a tool integrated with bCourses, is also useful for discussions focused on sharing images.
The Remote Instruction Guide includes Best Practices for Fostering Student-to-Student Interaction that can be applied to any course using asynchronous discussions. You can self-enroll in the Remote Instruction Guide via this self-enrollment link.
Lohmann, M. J., & Boothe, K. A. (2020). Developing Asynchronous Online Discussion Boards to Increase Student Engagement and Learning. In A. Thornburg, D. Abernathy, & R. Ceglie (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Developing Engaging Online Courses (pp. 134-151). IGI Global. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-2132-8.ch008