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Most learning in online classes takes place in the weekly asynchronous discussion forum. Most classes have specific requirements for discussions, including how many days per week students need to post in the discussions and which days they need to post. The general rule for posting messages is to write one posting addressing the discussion prompt and then write a response to 2-3 classmates’ original postings. The general rule for days posting and response due dates is to make the initial posting by mid-week and responses to two classmates’ postings between 2-4 days later.

Before participating in the discussions, students should prepare ahead of time by reviewing all information about discussions and grading in the syllabus. If a rubric is provided for discussions, review that carefully. It is a good idea to make a checklist of requirements so you can review and check each posting and response before submitting to the discussion area. Here are some tips that are relevant for all online discussions.

Writing the posting

  • Read directions for posting and responding.
  • List questions from the prompt separately.
  • Group questions into topics.
  • Organize topics into paragraphs.
  • Write each paragraph with a topic sentence, 4-6 body sentences, concluding/transition sentence, and provide evidence (refer to a source) in the paragraph. Ideally, you should write 2-3 sentences of your own both before and after the sentence(s) you cite in the paragraph to support your comments. This may include analysis, evaluation, and explanations about the paragraph topic.
  • The purpose of citing a source is to support your thoughts, not the other way around.
  • Organize paragraphs and the proofread for cohesion and clarity; edit and revise accordingly. Check off each of the questions from the original list as you address each in the posting.
  • The final step is to proofread carefully for grammar, typos, and punctuation.

Participating (Responding to Classmates)

Writing the posting is just the first step in completing online discussions successfully. Participation usually is counted in discussion grades in online classes. Do be sure to review and follow the requirements for class participation. Here are some tips for guaranteeing a high score in online discussions.

  • Post early and often. If the due date for the original posting is Wednesday, post on Monday or Tuesday. If the requirements are for two responses to classmates’ original posting, respond to 3 or 4 people.
  • Read all classmates’ and instructor’s postings. Read the responses you receive on your posting. Reply to people who write to you.
  • Use appropriate netiquette. Follow your school’s netiquette guidelines (you can most likely find this in the Student Handbook).
  • Don’t just post to meet requirements – engage and interact – make connections with classmates and instructor.
  • When engaging in conversations online, avoid simple “cheerleader” messages. These would be similar to “good posting” or “I like what you wrote.” Always explain what you liked or why you agree.
  • It’s fine to disagree and debate in online class discussions; in fact, most professors encourage this type of interaction.

I believe learning takes place in a group through critical thinking. The best way to practice critical thinking is to debate and support your opinions in a conversation. Treat online discussions just the same as face-to-face conversations. You say something, someone responds, and then you carry on the conversation by adding more information through agreeing or disagreeing with the response. Remember, online discussions are not just opinions. Discussions are opinions based on critical thinking of all sides of an issue or question, and supported with material from expert sources.