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Whether you’re going fully online this semester or doing some form of hybrid teaching, creating online class discussion designs that differ from one another can help increase student engagement and interest in your course. So, I’ve listed seven different discussion design ideas that can work well in your classroom (two of them are combined together on this list, just FYI). They require the use of different tools, but these tools are very user friendly and are free for teachers and students. Let’s take a look…
Here’s the video version of this blog post, in case you’d rather watch/listen.
Zoom Breakout Room Discussions
Rather than sticking to a whole class discussion design on Zoom, break up your students into small groups and have them work on specific prompts or activities for 20 or so minutes. Then, bring them all back together into one Zoom room and have them discuss the answers/results they came up with while in small groups. As the host, you can jump around and chime in during the small group discussions. You can ask students to pick a representative for each small group and have those representations start the whole class discussion before opening the floor to all students.
Here’s a video tutorial on how to set up breakout rooms (and how to use the screen share function, as well).
Chat Room Small Group Discussions
On my LMS, I can create chat rooms for my students to use during a class activity or for homework. I show how to create the chat rooms in this LMS tutorial video. Rather than using Zoom breakout rooms, divide students into different LMS chat rooms and have them answer a certain prompt in their particular room. You can move around the various rooms and chime in where necessary. After students work on the prompt for a while, you can move on to a full class discussion in a separate chat room or have students switch chat rooms and continue working on a different prompt than first assigned to them. Keep switching things up and eventually bring it back to a full class discussion.
With chat rooms, students can feel less pressure responding to a conversation prompt because they have time to think out the answers they type and don’t have to worry about being on camera.
LMS Discussion Forum OR Flipgrid Forum
For asynchronous conversations, your LMS discussion forum is a great place to organize discussion activities. Give students a prompt to answer for homework and have them reply to a specific number of their classmates’ conversation starters. During a later synchronous discussion, have students talk about the responses they read that intrigued them. Or, give students follow up questions to answer during this synchronous discussion by searching for patterns in their discussion forum answers before class begins.
To liven up this type of activity, consider creating a Flipgrid discussion board rather than using your LMS. Here’s a Flipgrid tutorial that shows you how to do this. On Flipgrid, students respond to the prompt via videos and they also respond to their classmates’ answers in this way, as well. Using Flipgrid allows for body language and inflection to be “read” by viewers, which adds another layer to the discussion.
Zoom Show and Tell
Have students create or find a visual of some type to bring to the next class discussion. Have them show this visual using the “share screen” function, presenting their thoughts on the visual or on the class topic/activity that connects to this visual. For example, have them create an infographic using Canva (I love Canva for creating multimodal texts), then have them present their infographic to the class during a Zoom class discussion. By having students bring in concrete examples of their work or of the concepts being discussed, you can better insure that students have something to talk about when you call on them during the discussion.
Collaborative Writing with Google Docs
Have students collaborate on a project by sharing a Google Doc link that they can all access and edit. After students answer the prompt, look through their creation and devise some questions to ask them during the next class discussion. You can also create a multi-element prompt and have students divide themselves into groups and answer one element each. This can help students complete the activity faster, allowing more time to shift to discussion during the online class period. You can have students break up into breakout rooms in Zoom to work on their specific element of the document.
Student-Led Class Discussion Activity
My students tend to really enjoy the group project that lets them take control of a large chunk of time spent discussing our class novels. Here’s a blog post where I describe this group activity in detail. This project can definitely be slightly redesigned for an online class. Have students break up into small groups and create a discussion activity that they lead their classmates through later on in the semester. They can pick what to focus on in the discussion and the design of the discussion, too. With this activity, students can feel empowered and invested in reading the course material more carefully.
These are just a few ideas for online class discussion designs that can help engage student interest in your class content. If you have your own ideas to share, please do add them to the comments section below. If you’re looking for more advice on online teaching or edtech options, check out my “Online Teaching” page which lists all my related blog posts and YouTube videos. I wish you the best as you continue prepping for next semester!
Also, if you’re creating and teaching your first college course next semester, here’s a resource than can help with designing the first week of class.