HOW DO YOU FOSTER SUCCESSFUL ONLINE DISCUSSIONS? (some thoughts of MFO course participants)

There were several useful observations on this from last week's activity. From the discussions we had the following:

  • Have a clearly defined relevant topic that promotes discussion; posting a topic that is thought provoking, interesting and relevant to what the students are studying
  • Have an organized structure such as Michael designed for this discussion.A separate forum in the discussion area assist students in location the relevant postings.
  • Read the other postings in order to ‘scaffold’ effectively and learn from others. Use the other postings as blocks to build with.
  • Depending on the topic it could be helpful for participants to have time to research the subject before posting to the board. This could lead to a more informed discussion.
  • Online discussions are successful if they provide fresh options to investigate, new direction, goals, insights and challenges.
  • a conversation to and fro - as would be had in a classroom situation, rather than one solitary comment
  • the facilitator could send emails to those not participating (eg: have you read Jo's thoughts on topic X - they are very enlightening) The facilitator's role would be to guide participants to ensure the discussion stays on track, without becoming too involved; the trick with this is to be friendly and encourage but reinforce the notion that it is obligatory to be involved!
  • Active participants can encourage others to add their thoughts by challenging viewpoints and asking for responses from individuals who they believe may have useful information relating to the discussion
  • put a time limit on the discussion - say 3 or 4 days so that everyone gets involved quickly to discourage procrastination
  • facilitator should encourage participants to freely put forward their ideas on the issue/topic as it provides an excellent forum for feedback by encouraging both more thought and depth of reply than may otherwise occur in a classroom.

From the chat between Michael, Keven, and Vicki:

  • getting the feeling of other individuals at the end of keyboard as being important
  • getting an image of the personality of other participants
  • some socialisation is needed first
  • need to access the discussions at least twice a day
  • a kind of teamwork involved
  • group responsibility
  • a level of expectation and commitment
  • people need to have an experience with this tool (discusions) where they feel they have really gained something
  • confidence in literacy skills

Other Resources

The following web references may be useful:

For an interesting approach (called the R9 process) see example 2 at the end of the page at

For a superb example of how one can coach students in online courses to develop this appreciation of the knowledge of classmates as a source for analysis and ‘deeper learning’ I recommend you investigate the late Guy Bensusan’s Escalator approach at

My own paper at discusses the use of forums in general. (This paper also discusses other several other issues related to this course.)

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