The Online Community: Facilitating Online Discussion Groups

The following article was written by our Executive Remediation and Assessment Manager, Brenda Boyce, RN, EdD.

In the online environment, discussion groups are a common method of instruction. Discussion groups provide an opportunity for students to be engaged in the learning process, increase student involvement, and result in a rich exchange of information, thoughts, and ideas. Online discussion itself provides students the opportunity to form a learning community, as well as the ability to share with and challenge each other. Online discussions in moderated discussion groups provides you, the instructor, a keyhole into each student’s behavior, level of effort and commitment, and ability to present him/herself in a clear and cogent manner.

But serving as a facilitator for online discussion can be a challenging and time-consuming role. As a facilitator, what strategies can you use to optimize this methodology? There are strategies that you can implement to optimize your role and keep your time commitment within reason. Here are a few:

1. At the beginning of a semester, provide the ground rules up front. These should include the expected amount of involvement, affect on grade, civility, dates of discussion (both opening and closing), etc.

2. Clarify the difference between a “chat” and a “discussion.”

3. Be clear on your role. You are a facilitator, not a lecturer. Inform students that you will be a “guide” – someone more in the background monitoring and participating to ensure the discussion is staying on target and addressing key content.

4. Address any inappropriate behavior immediately, and privately, with the student. Set the discussion to allow you to reveal all entries prior to posting if this becomes a problem. In this way you can remove any offensive text and address with student.

5. Provide summary post as the closing period of the discussion topic closes. This should summarize the thoughts and also include recognition of any student or posting that is outstanding.

Do you have any strategies to add to this list?

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