5. Provide clear expectations regarding student interactions and grading.

As many teachers report, participation in discussion on and off-line does not necessarily improve critical thinking skills. You need to work towards the development of higher order thinking skills…but how?

First, research shows that unless online discussions are graded they are unlikely to be taken seriously by students.

Second, you need to provide clear expectations for the type of interaction that you are expecting. This can include providing a framework for the assessment of the quality of participation1 (appendix 3 pdf).


Ask students to label their comments as follows:

  • Discuss to comprehend: means that a students’ comment serves to interpret, elaborate or make connections to prior learning
  • Discuss to critique: involves carefully examining people’s views in order to build on or add new insights or challenge ideas
  • Discuss to construct knowledge: requires negotiating meanings, comparing and contrasting views, raising questions and sometimes revising thinking
  • Discuss to share improved understanding: synthesizes personal learning and expresses improved understanding based on review of discussion thread 2

In order to encourage ongoing interaction you can include in your assignment’s (appendix 4 pdf) description the expectation that students comment on each other’s posts and actively pursue posts that have not yet been commented on. You may also require that all posts should end with a question in an effort to keep the conversation going.

Show 2 footnotes

  1.  Dip Nandi, Shanton Chang and Sandrine Balbo, “A Conceptual Framework for Assessing Interaction Quality in Online Discussion Forums” (paper presented at Ascilite, Auckland, 2009): 670.
  2.  Fei Gao, Charles X. Wang and Yanling Sun, “A New Model of Productive Online Discussion and Its Implications for Research and Instruction,” Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange 2 (2009): 70-73.