Course Activities - Discussion/Debate

Overview | Instructional Use | Tips | Shortcomings | Potential Technology | Resources

Having students discussing the instructional material is an effective way to allow them exchanging and analyzing different points of views about the content covered. The content to be discussed can be provided in multiple media such as text, audio, or even a video clip.

The most common method of asynchronous discussion is through the online forums in which a student post a text entry about a certain topic, while other students comment or critique the student's entry; however, there are alternative technologies that allow for students' interaction in formats other than text, such as audio and video.




Since Ancient Greece, discussion has been used as a widely popular instructional method to promote learning. By having students discussing a specific topic they:

  • Participate more actively in the learning process
  • Develop critical thinking skills having to summarize, analyze and synthesize the content
  • Are exposed to different point of views and ideas about an issue
  • Have the opportunity to learn new concepts and facts from their peers related to the topic being discussed 



  • Provide guidelines and expectations of the discussion process. For instance, inform students that it is not enough agreeing or disagreeing about a classmate’s opinion but it is important to include the reasons for doing it, based on the class readings.
  • Look for different discussion sources; discussion does not necessarily need to be about a reading or a book chapter. It could be about a video or an event.
  • Let the discussion flow by not aswering immediately every single post. Instead, summarize and respond to the ideas expressed in several posts.
  • Encourage critical thinking by asking questions about situations or scenarios that your students might have not considered.



  • Text-based discussion lacks the cues of verbal inflection thus sometimes a sentence could be misread or misinterpreted. This issue can be mitigated by encouraging the use of emoticons such as :-)
  • The main topic could be quickly lost as students might switch the topic inadvertently in the discussion process. To prevent this issue, it is important to monitor regularly the student interaction and to intervene bringing the discussion back to the topic being addressed.


Several technologies can be used to promote the discussion of a topic in your online course:

Online forums: Most common text-based tool to provide asynchronous discussion.

Video annotations: Youtube and other similar tools allow for commenting about a video that has been previously uploaded. The text-based comments are shown on a layer on the top of the video.

Multimedia comments: provides a tool in which students can comment and discuss about content from various media (video, images, documents, etc.). Comments can be text-based or verbally recorded.

Chat: Chat tools allow for text-based discussion in real time. Most videoconferencing applications, like Adobe Connect or Skype, provide chat functionality. Oncourse has also a chat tool.