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How to Foster Students’ Participation in Online Discussions

With more classes than ever being conducted online, educators face new challenges to make the virtual space as engaging and inviting as possible. In the absence of physical activity, it makes sense that there should be a greater emphasis on discussion and presentation. Discussions are always interesting, but how exactly do you foster students’ participation in online discussions?

It’s easy for some students to sit quietly and listen while a minority dominates the discussion. Some might claim not to know what to say, and others might be simply willing to run out the clock. However, it’s always best to get as many students as possible involved. Here are some ideas on how you can do that.

Foster Students’ Participation in Online Discussions: Ideas

1. Pose direct questions.

As educators, we might think we’re doing students a favor by asking open-ended questions. In fact, this can have the opposite effect. Some students struggle with how to answer such “big” questions. In such cases, you can make the questions a bit more pointed to try and get students thinking on a more specific track.

The goal is to get everyone engaged and participating in the discussion. It doesn’t matter if the questions are different from usual or tailored to suit different students’ thinking stylesAll that matters is that they are relevant. You can also try reframing and rewording the questions to help students better understand the underlying point.

2. Deliver positive feedback.

It’s important to affirm students’ contributions, no matter how seemingly minor they may be. Not every answer has to be the Gettysburg Address. When you offer positive feedback on student contributions, perhaps offer constructive points too. Feedback like this encourages others to take part and benefit from participating.

While most educators wouldn’t be wildly critical of student contributions, it can be very negative to nit-pick or show even minor adverse reactions. Who would want to participate in a discussion if the teacher is just going to point out grammatical mistakes or minor flaws in logic?

3. Have students respond to each other.

Another good method to foster students’ participation in online discussions is being only a facilitator while getting a discussion flowing between the students. In this case, rather than the teacher asking pointed questions to each student, the teacher might ask a starter question that gets passed around. Students then supplement this question with additional questions and their thoughts on the topic.

4. Relate questions to real-world events and everyday life.

Finally, adult learners will engage best when instructors frame questions and discussions around real-world events and things that affect students’ everyday lives. It’s much easier for learners to engage with questions regarding things they care about and in which they are interested.

Go now, and let the discussion flow!

So, as a facilitator, ask the right kinds of starter questions about topics to which students can relate. Moreover, provide a good deal of positive and constructive feedback to ensure your learners take part in a lively, meaningful and productive online discussion. You’ll be amazed at how much difference these simple approaches can make!

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