Teaching Hub

Crafting Online Discussion Questions

by Alecia Chatham, Department of Modern Languages and Classics

Building a community is a key factor in online teaching. Most online classes have a discussion forum for this purpose. Seems simple, right? Well, it’s not as simple as posting a question and requesting responses.

Word cloud about online learningThis task can present unexpected challenges because some subjects simply do not lend themselves to fun or interesting questions. If the questions aren’t both engaging and interesting, students will likely give very similar, brief responses.

For example, if I asked a question about a Latin grammatical concept taught that week, it would be difficult for students to engage with or learn anything about one another because most answers would be very similar — objective and short. This type of response would tell me they learned what I was teaching, but it would not allow them to say anything about themselves, learn about one another, or share what they think about the information they are learning. This type of discussion does not create a sense of community within an online class.

A much better approach would be to ask students how course concepts relate to them and why it is helpful for them to learn such things. Questions that directly pertain to the class and allow students to personalize their responses are much more effective.

So, some subjects make the task of asking good questions more challenging than others. My suggestion is to try answering your question before posing it to your students! Your response should be included in your question to provide examples of how one might begin.