Discussions give students opportunities to engage with course content through interaction with other students and the instructor. You can increase student participation with clear instructions for the discussion activity that include the purpose of the activity, what constitutes an acceptable post, the expected number of posts, and the expected frequency of posts. Discussions are an appropriate instructional strategy for cognitive objectives that include applying theoretical concepts to practical situations or generating and investigating solutions to problems, and affective objectives such as receiving, responding to, or valuing phenomena. They are also used to help learners structure an argument, see a variety of perspectives on an issue, take a position counter to one that they hold, or wrestle with ambiguity.
During an in-class discussion, you probably don’t define what a quality verbal response consists of because you are able to ask for clarification or additional information as a facilitator of the conversation. In the online setting, it is important to establish what students should include in their posts so that students have the confidence to respond to the discussion prompt without fear of looking foolish in front of the class. Additionally, you can shape whether the discussion is a back-and-forth exchange of ideas that builds over time or statements of positions with feedback with requirements for the number and timing of posts. For example, instructions that ask for a substantive post by Thursday with replies to two classmates by Sunday yield a different conversation pattern than instructions that ask students to contribute seven posts on at least four different days throughout the discussion.