Teacher Tap

cat at computerCourse Discussion: Facilitation

Is anyone out there?

When there's a lull in the discussion, it's tempting for instructors to interject their ideas and opinions into student forums. However, teachers should use caution when posting messages. Some students may rely on the teacher's comments or wait for the teacher to lead rather than jump into the discussion. When possible, let the participants lead and only join the discussion when necessary.

There are situations where the instructor may wish to enter a student discussion. He or she may jump into a heated conversation to cool things off, provide a perspective that seems to be missing, play the devil's advocate, or correct misleading information. However, take care not to anger or embarrass students. It may be possible to defuse a situation through a personal email rather than a public posting.

Many instructors find it valuable to setup and debrief discussions. The setup might include the discussion prompt, assessment information, and suggestions for approaching the topic. At the end of discussion, the instructor may provide an overview of the discussion along with a closing statement. This is also a role that can be rotated among students.

When facilitating discussions…

Facilitating Online Discussions

At first, some students may need guidance and practice in holding an online discussion. If your discussions get off-track or lack depth, you may wish to play the role of coach by:

Regardless of whether you choose to actively participate in student discussions, consider the following guidelines for class discussions.

Creating a Series of Discussions

Rather than cramming the entire class into the same discussion, provide choices. In most cases, you need at least three or four people to really get a discussion rolling, however too many students will make a forum overwhelming. Groups of four to fourteen students work best. You may allow students to self-select categories (i.e., topics, professional interests, grade level interests, problem, team) or assign groups.

If you allow self-selection, keep track of the choices made by students and adjust the assignments each semester in an attempt to even out the groups.

Examine different aspects of your learning outcome and select two or three elements discussion. You may ask students to post in one discussion and reply in another forum.


Tornadoes cause hundreds of deaths each year. Are you prepared? Read Tornado Myths and Facts and Tornado Safety from NOAA's National Climate Data Center. Then, choose ONE of the following discussions:

Let students lead the discussions.
Provide students with guidelines for participation.
Consider multiple discussions to reduce group size and provide students with choice.

apply itApply It!
Design guidelines for participation.

Take a discussion item you've created and design three separate discussions with different emphasis, viewpoints, or options.

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