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Designing online discussions

Posted at 1:39 p.m. Oct. 1, 2014, by in Creating content, Teaching Online

Last Updated: Aug 3, 2021 @ 4:06 pm

Designing online discussions


If possible, your online discussions should take place during the same time periods each week (for example, weekly discussions could begin Monday mornings and end each following Sunday night). To encourage a back-and-forth discussion, students should be given two due dates. They should be required to post their original response to the discussion question by the first due date (e.g., using the prior discussion window example, Wednesday by 11:59pm could be the first deadline) and be required to substantially respond to one or two classmates by the end of the discussion. A “substantial response” would require that the student responds with more than “I disagree” or “Good point,” but you may want to further break down requirements.

Students should be given clear expectations regarding how their participation in online discussions will be graded. A rubric should be provided on the syllabus for students to reference, and should be used to grade student discussions. It is important to grade these discussions quickly after they have finished, as the positive or negative feedback students receive motivate them to continue completing their work on time and clarify expectations.

Crafting “discussable” questions

Not all questions are equal! Many questions cannot truly be discussed. For example, if you asked the discussion question, “Who was president of the United States during World War II?” or even something a bit more complicated, such as “Explain the process of mitosis,” most of your student answers would look the same, or very similar, to one another. Students would not be bringing up different points, and thus would have little to nothing to converse with their classmates about.

However, if you were to ask a question such as, “Do you believe the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was the correct one? Explain.” or “Based on what you have learned so far, how do you think climate change will impact future generations?”, students are forced to support a point in a way that other students may view differently. These questions, which force students to analyze a situation and draw (perhaps differing) conclusions, can foster a back-and-forth discussion between classmates as they review each other’s perspectives.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to write discussion questions

Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom, helps us define and distinguish between different levels of thinking and understanding. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you develop higher-order thinking questions that can lead to conversation in your online course.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Well-written discussion questions ask students to utilize higher-order thinking skills, which are demonstrated in the uppermost tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.


Armstrong, Patricia. (2014). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved 1 October 2014, from

Teaching Effectiveness Program, University of Oregon. Retrieved 3 August 2021. Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions.


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