Brown DLD Faculty Guides

Asynchronous Discussions

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Asynchronous discussions offer a robust platform for students to interact with fellow students and faculty. Through your discussion prompts, you can invite students to think through and make meaning of course material, which results in deeper and more sustained learning. In addition, students benefit from seeing how their peers interpret and make sense of the content.

Two options for asynchronous discussions are Canvas Discussions and Ed Discussions.

Purposes of Discussions

With well-designed prompts, asynchronous discussions can:

  • Provide a means for students to apply their learning from lectures, presentations, readings, etc. and foster higher order thinking around the content.
  • Allow students an opportunity to make connections between concepts and to their prior learning and experiences, which results in better retention of material.
  • Offer a way to showcase student artifacts of learning and to gather feedback on their work

Ways to Use Discussions

  • Have students analyze case studies as a group
  • Evaluate and discuss images, videos, or other artifacts
  • Reflect together on a Zoom lecture
  • Engage in conversations about readings and other course materials
  • Pose questions to the instructor and receive feedback

How to Participate in Discussions

  1.  Post a response to the prompt, which will appear parallel to other student responses.
  2.  Reply to individual student posts to target specific responses (thus creating a thread).
  3.  Post a video response instead of text to differentiate it from others and personalize it even more.

Tips for Facilitating Effective Asynchronous Discussions

  • Design prompts that facilitate your learning outcomes. Review your learning goals or outcomes and consider how peer discussion can aid students in reaching these goals.
  • Decide on a structure for your discussion. Many class discussions have a tendency to unfold in one of several identified styles, such as “The Eclectic Beaded Necklace,” in the words of one teacher: students post a response to the prompt without necessarily connecting it to preceding responses. You could think of this as a public assignment submission, like a paper, but visible to all in the class, not just the teacher. A more engaged style is “The Whirlpool,” where students circle around a subject, exploring it deeper and deeper. 
  • Maintain instructor presence in discussions. While you do not need to comment on every post (and doing so might detract from a more organic exchange between students), you do want to show students that you are paying attention to their comments. Clarify misconceptions or acknowledge accurate or insightful responses.
  • Use discussion board responses as formative feedback. Monitor the discussions to see what concepts students are understanding well and which material you may need to review or provide additional resources for.
  • Break students into smaller discussion groups in large classes. Keep the conversation focused and more authentic to natural conversation by putting students into smaller groups.
  • Consider assigning roles to students to facilitate more effective discussions. Students benefit from structure especially when they are newly developing a skill. You can assign students to roles that facilitate strong discussions—for example, the initiator, the connector, the synthesizer, and the critic.
  • Provide clear criteria or models of the types of responses you seek. Use a discussion rubric or show exemplars of past responses.

Tips for Providing Feedback on Discussions

  • Provide feedback as soon as possible after the student submission, or after the discussion closes, to show interest in students' work and to keep the exchange between you and the student relevant.
  • Balance suggestions for improvement with affirmations of successes.
  • Be specific and actionable so that students know how your comments can be integrated on future work.
  • Incorporate peer review in select discussions to reduce instructor feedback and diversify feedback.
  • Summarize your takeaways from the discussion through an announcement after the discussion closes or a page placed at the end of the module. Provide these for the benefit of all students, as opposed to individual and personalized feedback in Speedgrader. Alternatively, assign a different team each week the task of summarizing discussion takeaways.
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