Engage Students Through Discussion

Course Design Tools Help

Engage Students Through Discussion

Learning requires a social component, and much of what is enjoyable about teaching and learning is wrapped up in the exchange of ideas. This is true for in-person and remote instruction. In an in-person class, methods for creating an environment for engaging students can seem more intuitive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to also create this environment in a remote instruction course, too. So, the first thing you might consider is how to relay and share in that sense of camaraderie in your remote instruction class. Discussion forums in bCourses provide an opportunity to engage with students and promote interaction among students.

In the Core Template

There is already a sample discussion assignment set up in the template called Week 1 Discussion. You can copy that discussion as many times as you need and place those discussions where you’d like to include them on your weekly landing pages. Pay attention to the settings you incorporate into the discussion assignment including whether they are group/section discussion assignments or ones that you’d like the whole class to interact in. Providing explicit instructions for discussion participation is also an important consideration in order to ensure that students are prepared to participate in meaningful and productive ways. 

Components of Discussion Assignments

The following materials provide guidance for how to create a successful discussion assignment. You will also find example text in each section that you can use as a starting point for discussions in your own course.

Description and Purpose

Be sure to address why students are engaging in the discussion assignment (e.g., are they meant to engage in research in order to achieve a learning objective, is this practice for a larger assignment, is this part of a scaffolding process, are they demonstrating understanding of content covered in the weekly readings?) and who they are engaging with (i.e., are they addressing all of their peers, are they pretending to be writing to a different audience and their peers are providing responses as an exercise in peer review, are they working in small groups for a reason?).

Example Text: Description and Purpose

Once you’ve decided on the strategy for your post, identify your argument and layout the ways that you will support it, both by providing evidence that supports your strategy and evidence that discredits arguments against your stance. Support all of your positions by citing sources from the course materials and any external sources you consult. 

Be sure to adhere to the word count when composing your initial post and responses to your peers. Ask questions that will stimulate and encourage readers to respond to your post. When you respond to your peers, be sure to add value to the discussion by noting alternative viewpoints, asking probing or clarifying questions, or (gently) pointing out missing data, etc…

Instructions and Due Date

Identify and/or refer back to discussion directions and guidelines including referencing netiquette standards and assignment due dates (i.e., Do they have to make an initial posting by a certain date and then respond to a specific number of peers by a different date? Are they required to respond to students who ask questions of them?)

Example Text: Instructions and Due Date

Respond to the prompt(s) by selecting the "Reply" button and including your first and last names in the title of your post. Ensure your responses relate to the module materials and are detailed enough to thoroughly answer the question. You can view other students' discussion responses and reply to their post with your own comment and observation regarding their approach and reasoning. When responding to another student's post, select that message and respond as a "reply."

While it is appropriate to disagree with your peers you must do so in a way that is respectful in tone and intent. Discussion is about engaging and learning from each other, before becoming defensive or argumentative, acknowledge the learning process in play.


By either referring to or including a rubric you’ll offer another opportunity for students to successfully participate in the assignment.

Example Text: Rubric #1

Criterion Exceptional Meets Expectations Needs Improvement Poor
Content Well written, fully elaborates points. Clear and detailed information supports thoughts and ideas and shows full acquisition of concepts from the material. Well written, most points elaborated with clear and detailed information that supports thoughts and ideas and uses concepts from the material. Adequately written; some points elaborated but with minimal use of concepts from the material. Poor writing style with little or no specific details, no evidence of having studied the material, and/or off topic.
Organization & Mechanics Clearly organized and remains focused. Few or no grammatical errors. Good organization with few statements out of place. Minor grammatical errors. Organization present but awkward. Some grammatical errors present. Little or no structure present. Grammatical errors interfere with comprehension.
Participation Posts show a genuine interest in contributing to the overall life of the forum. Student contributes beyond minimal post number requirement. Raises new topics that others find worth discussing further. Posts address the topic with reflection. Many responses build on previous posts and add to overall discussion. Student engages others in meaningful conversations. Posts address the topic but consist mostly of a rote repetition of the study materials or previous posts. Little or no reflection on previous posts. Minimal posts in number or length. Posts show little or no reflection on the topics or previous posts.

Example Text: Rubric #2

Excellent Good Passable Poor
Write Up Creative, nuanced, original. Argument develops in a logical way. Student treats their chosen post as a cultural object while interrogating its political meanings and interconnections! Lacks clarity, consistency, complexity, or originality. Minor lapses in the coherence of the argument. Unconvincing, or overly general. Summary over analysis of text. Student is more concerned about the grade as opposed to genuine growth. Superficial. Argument has many holes or is unconvincing.


Textual evidence is carefully  chosen to support argument; thorough analysis. Critical analysis- student uses value neutral language that is descriptive but non evaluative. Defines terms. Evidence is fairly well integrated and presented, but not sufficiently analyzed; "bends evidence" to the argument. Limited use of, and/or lacking engagement with, evidence; plot summary stands in for analysis. Moral condemnation as opposed to analysis. Only cursory research was done. Very little was learned (e.g.; Starts an essay with a blatant “it’s racist” as opposed to good analysis.
Writing Structure There is a clear logical flow. Well-constructed sentences in active voice and carefully organized paragraphs. Consistent & appropriate style. Some confusion and unclarity. Colloquial terms perhaps. Few problems with sentence construction and organization. Inconsistent style (e.g. formal to informal). Generally, makes sense, but significant confusion and uncertainty. Needs major revision. Inappropriately casual writing. Writing is unclear. Many sentences require re-reading. Poor flow between sentences. Major style & mechanical problems.
Execution Students took time to learn Adobe Spark thoroughly and successfully used Adobe Spark as a tool to convey the interconnectedness of their cultural object. Some errors are evident and there may be room for improvement. Lots of errors and/or sloppiness. A very limited effort. A fairly bad, haphazard, perfunctory effort. Student waited til the last minute to complete the assignment.
Graphics Graphics are integrated seamlessly into their spark page. The images tell a story. Their spark page is pretty. The graphics are just okay, they serve a purpose but do not add a new dimension to the story. The connection between the graphics and the post is a bit unclear. There are no graphics, or the graphics serve no purpose.
Citations Well used and properly cited. Student situates cultural document within a larger network. Mostly a good selection of sources, but could go a bit further. There may be an obvious type of source missing. Citations may need more work. Should have used more sources or more diverse sources. Some or most sources are not reliable. Citations definitely need more work. No effort for properly citing work.


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