Tips for More Active Asynchronous Discussions All Semester Long

During a recent seminar, presenters Kay Dennis of Park University and Jeffery Alejandro of East Carolina University, offered the following tips on using online discussions to maintain student motivation:

  • Be explicit and optimistic about expectations for course participation. “I tell students upfront, — ‘I want you to sign in at last three times a week and your attendance in this course is being monitored.’ By doing this, I hope to create a little momentum, get them in the habit of coming to the course. If they’re more active in the course, I’ve found that they tend to become a little bit more motivated,” Alejandro said.
  • Encourage students to talk to one another and question each other. Build this into your discussions by having students post a message and respond to others. This reduces the feeling of isolation and creates “a little bit of a cohort effect.” Students who get to know one another tend to want to take subsequent online courses together, which can improve motivation as well. Positive interactions among students can help motivate students who are not as comfortable in the online environment because they feel that they can rely on the faculty member and classmates, Alejandro said.
  • Build in accountability by assigning students on a rotating basis to summarize the weekly discussion, Dennis said.
  • Link discussion topics to learning outcomes. Dennis keeps a bank of questions and looks for new ways of asking them. She keeps the learning objectives in front of her and tries to match the questions to the learning objectives week by week. When she has trouble coming up with good questions, she’ll often go back to the readings. “I take responsibility for that. That’s much better in the long run than putting up questions that you know at the time are kind of so-so,” Dennis said. After students post a couple of things, she monitors the discussion to determine how to improve it and keep it lively.
  • Have students contribute discussion questions. Alejandro suggests dividing assignments or chapters into sections and have students contribute the questions that are going to be asked in a given week. This gives students the opportunity to ask questions that are relevant to them.

Excerpted from “Tips from the Pros – Maintaining Motivation in Online Discussions.” Online Classroom, November 2009, 1, 7.