After some trial and error, I have hit upon a discussion set up that seems to promote the kind of depth and breadth of engagement with the course material and with each other that I would ideally like to elicit. Students are asked to read between two-to-four pieces of literature (poetry, short stories, essays) and to participate in two discussion boards per week – one group discussion and one pair discussion. For both, they must post an initial answer to a question I pose by Tuesday. Then, by Friday at noon, they must read at least what they’re groupmates have posted and post at least one reply/follow-up.
When I first began teaching online, I believed that anytime students wrote anything, they should be held accountable for both spelling and grammar and my discussion rubric reflected that. As a result, I got very brief, very stiff, very formal discussion posts in which students were clearly speaking to me rather than to each other.