7 useful tips for making online discussions work

With more teaching activities moving to an online space it is important to engage the students in meaningful conversations outside lectures and seminars.

In a recent article published on Advance HE website, Slobodan Tomic, Ellen Roberts and Jane Lund from the University of York talk about the necessity to rethink teaching methods and how to make online activities work well.

Discussion forums form an important part of online teaching provision, and albeit simple in principle, designing these activities need careful consideration. The authors provide 7 useful tips for making asynchronous discussions work. Further details and tips are available in the original article, but the main points are as follows:

1. Set clear expectations

Clarify what the activity is, define its purpose. Outline what students need to do and by when, what the tutor’s role will be, and what students should do if they have any problems.

2. Keep activities to one main function or question

Aim to design activities so they only cover one theme or question.

3. Make space for students to share views about studying online

This allows students to feel ‘heard’ and gives the space to voice their concerns or suggestions.

4. Practice regular, though less intense, engagement

Try to engage regularly but do not overdo it by responding to each post. Instead, you can try writing a general response at the end of the week/topic.

You should also encourage students to respond to each other’s posts, which can lead to increased engagement.

5. Prompt early discussion

Try to get students engaging in a discussion from day 1 and ask questions that allow them to share initial thoughts on the activity. This can then develop into a more meaningful discussion as the week/topic progresses.

6. Keep it short and structured (bullet-points welcome)

Encourage students to keep their answers short and concise to avoid overloading the discussion.

7. Mitigate for non-verbal communication

It is important to keep in mind that miscommunication can happen. Establish some ground rules for communication and address any issues as they arise.


Tomic S, Roberts E, Lund J (2020) Designing Learning And Teaching Online: The Role Of Discussion Forums, Advance HE [online] Available at: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/designing-learning-and-teaching-online-role-discussion-forums [Accessed 13 May 2020].

Last updated: 13 May 2020

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