Discussions are a type of active learning that allow students to work through concepts from course content by formulating ideas in their own words. Synchronously or asynchronously, students can clarify understanding, debate topics, organize ideas, and practice skills.

Possible Instructional Uses:

  • Utilize the “think-pair-share” method in face-to-face classroom settings by prompting a question to students and instructing them to think or write about their answer, discuss their answer with a partner, and then share their thoughts with the rest of the class.
  • Host a synchronous discussion on a video-conferencing tool to discuss preliminary ideas for a group project.
  •  Host an asynchronous discussion on a discussion board so students can react to the course readings and respond to other students’ thoughts.
  • Instruct students to view and comment on each other’s VoiceThread presentations.
  • Create a unique course hashtag so students can share ideas on Twitter or other forms of social media.

WCU Supported Tools:

Additional Tools:

Tips for using Discussions:

  • In a face-to-face classroom setting, be clear about how much time you are providing for discussion and what the expected outcome should be (Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo, 2018).
  • Provide rubrics for online discussions so expectations for posting and replying to discussions are clear and grade according to the rubric (Ringler, et al., 2015).
  • Always tie back all discussion activities to the course learning objectives. Students, especially those in online courses who need to coordinate schedules with their peers, need to understand the value of the discussion in order to truly immerse themselves in the activity (Kellogg & Smith, 2009).
  • While it’s important to cultivate a learning community in which students are engaging with each other, don’t forget about student-instructor interaction. Communication between the instructor and student is critical in order to determine level of understanding and provide feedback (Sher, 2009).
  • Research-Based Practices: Discussion Boards


Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo. (2018, March 26). Facilitating Effective Discussions. Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/discussions/facilitating-effective-discussions

Kellogg, Deborah L., & Smith, Marlene A. (2009). Student-to-Student Interaction Revisited: A Case Study of Working Adult Business Students in Online Courses. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 7(2), 433-456.

Ringler, I., Schubert, C., Deem, J., Flores, J., Friestad-Tate, J., & Lockwood, R. (2015). Improving the asynchronous online learning environment using discussion boards. Journal of Educational Technology, 12(1), 15-27.

Sher, A. (2009). Assessing the relationship of student-instructor and student-student interaction to student learning and satisfaction in Web-based Online Learning Environment. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(2), 102-120.