Resources and Technology » Tools and Platforms » Hybrid/HyFlex and Online Teaching » Learning Through Synchronous and Asynchronous Discussion

Learning Through Synchronous and Asynchronous Discussion 

Discussions can be meaningful and engaging learning experiences: dynamic, eye-opening, and generative. However, like any class activity, they require planning and preparation. Without that, discussion challenges can arise in the form of unequal participation, unclear learning outcomes, or low engagement. This resource presents key considerations in class discussions and offers strategies for how instructors can prepare and engage in effective synchronous and asynchronous classroom discussions.

“A classroom environment that will give rise to good discussions is one that provides room for questions on an ongoing basis. In my experience, when an instructor asks “any questions?” often enough, we start thinking about questions we may have knowing they are welcomed. This simple step can really go a long way and help foster an environment in which, even online, all questions are welcomed.” – Yarin Reindorp, Sophomore, School of General Studies; CTL Undergraduate Student Consultant

Read other students’ insights and experiences.

Learning Through Synchronous Discussion

Learning Through Asynchronous Discussion

The What and Why of Class Discussion 

Class discussion can take many forms, from structured prompts and assignments to more casual or informal conversations. Regardless of class context (e.g.: a seminar, large lecture, or lab course) or the form (e.g.: synchronous or asynchronous) discussion takes, it offers a number of benefits to students’ learning. As an active learning technique, class discussion requires students to be co-constructors of their learning. Research shows that students learn more when they actively participate in their learning, rather than passively listen. Furthermore, studies have also shown that “student participation, encouragement, and peer-to-peer interaction was consistently and positively related to the development of critical thinking skills” (Howard, 2015, pp. 6). Class discussion has also been linked to greater student motivation, improved communication skills, and higher grades (Howard, 2015). But just like effective lectures or assignments require planning and preparation, so too does class discussion. 

The following sections offer a framework and strategies for learning through discussion in an online or hybrid/HyFlex course. These strategies are organized around four key phases: planning for classroom discussion, warming up for classroom discussion, engaging in classroom discussion, and wrapping up classroom discussion. These sections are then followed by specific considerations for synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid/HyFlex classes.

Identifying your Course Context

While the strategies and considerations provided throughout this resource are adaptable across course contexts, it is important to recognize instructors’ varied course formats, and how discussion might differ across them. This section identifies a few of these contexts, and reviews  how these contexts might shape instructors’ engagement with both this resource and class discussion more broadly.

I teach a discussion-based course

Small classes and seminars use discussion-based pedagogies, though it can be challenging to get every student to contribute to discussions. It is important to create multiple opportunities for engagement and not just rely on whole group discussion. Pair and small group discussions can create trust among students and give them the confidence to speak up in the larger group. Instructors of discussion-based courses can extend synchronous discussions into the asynchronous space. These inclusive moves allow students to contribute to discussions in multiple ways. Read on to learn more and explore strategies that you can adapt for your course context.

I do not teach a discussion-based course

Whether teaching a large lecture course, a lab course, or other non-discussion based course, students will still benefit from interacting with each other and learning through discussion. Synchronous and asynchronous discussions in pairs or small groups can be less intimidating for students regardless of class size and help create a sense of community that impacts learning. Read on to learn more and explore strategies that you can adapt for your course context.

I teach a Hybrid/HyFlex course

In a hybrid/HyFlex course, students participating in-person and remotely should have equal opportunities to contribute to discussions. To make this a reality, advanced preparation involves thinking through the logistics using discussion activities, roles and responsibilities (if working with TA(s)), technologies (e.g., ceiling microphones available in the classroom; asking in-person students to bring a mobile device and headset if possible to engage with their remote peers), and determining the configurations if using discussion groups or paired work (both in a socially distanced classroom, and if asking both in-person and remote students to discuss together in breakout groups). For more specific considerations, see the section Hybrid/HyFlex Considerations below.

I teach a fully online course

In a fully online course, you may be using both synchronous and asynchronous discussion spaces. Help students see connections across those discussion spaces by leveraging both synchronous and asynchronous discussion strategies. Read on to learn more and explore strategies that you can adapt for your course context. For more specific considerations, see the sections Synchronous Discussion Considerations and Asynchronous Discussion Considerations below. 

Planning for Classroom Discussion

Regardless of your course context, asynchronous or synchronous, seminar-style or lecture-based, or hybrid/HyFlex, there are some general considerations for planning a class discussion; these considerations include: the goals and expectations, your course modality, and the questions you might use to prompt discussion. The following section offers some questions for reflection, alongside ideas and strategies to address these considerations.

Goals & Expectations

What is the goal of the discussion? How will it support student learning? What are your expectations of student participation and contributions to the discussion? How will you communicate the goals and expectations to students? 

Articulate the goals of discussion: Consider both the content you want your students to learn and the skills you want them to apply and develop. These goals will inform the learner-centered strategies and digital tools you use during discussion.

Communicate the purpose (not just the topic) of discussion: Sharing learning goals will help students understand why discussion is being used and how it will contribute to their learning. 

Specify what you expect of student contributions to the discussion and how they will be assessed: Be explicit about what students should include in their contributions to make them substantive, and model possible ways of responding. Guide students in how they can contribute substantively to their peers’ live responses or online posts. You might consider asking students to use the 3CQ model: 

    • Compliment—I like that ___ because…; 
    • Comment—I agree/disagree with (specific point/idea) because…; 
    • Connection—I also thought that…; 
    • Question—I wonder why…  

Establish discussion guidelines: Communicate expectations for synchronous and asynchronous discussions. Be sure to include desired behaviours/etiquette and how technologies and tools for discussion will be used. Students in all classes can benefit from discussion guidelines as they help to clearly identify and establish expectations for student success. While there are some shared general discussion guidelines regardless of class modality, there are also some specific considerations for synchronous and asynchronous modalities: 

General Discussion Guidelines  Synchronous (via Zoom) Specific Guidelines  Asynchronous (via CourseWorks) Specific Guidelines 
Refer to classmates by name.  Listen actively without interrupting. Mute your mic while others are speaking.  Respond to discussion posts within # of hours or days. 
Allow everyone the chance to speak (“Take Space, Make Space”).  Use Zoom’s Raise Hand feature to indicate your desire to share.  Review one’s own writing for clarity before posting, being mindful of how it may be interpreted by others.
Constructively critique ideas, not individuals.  Contribute questions, ideas, or resources to the chat when prompted to do so.  Prioritize building upon or challenging the strongest ideas presented in a post instead of only focusing on the weakest aspects. 
    Follow the ABCs: 
Acknowledge something someone else said.
Build on their comment by connecting with course content, adding an example or observation.
Conclude with critical thinking or socratic questions. 

 Invite students to revise, contribute to, or co-create the guidelines. One way to do this is to facilitate a discussion about discussions, asking students to identify what the characteristics of an effective discussion are. This will encourage their ownership of the guidelines. Post the guidelines in CourseWorks and refer to them as needed.

 

Modality 

In what modality/modalities will the discussion take place (synchronous, asynchronous, or a blend of both)?

The modality of your class discussion (online or hybrid/HyFlex) may determine the tools and technologies that you ask students to engage with. Thus, it is important to determine early on how you would like students to engage in discussion and what tools you will use to support their engagement. For more tips on synchronous and asynchronous discussions, please see the sections Synchronous Discussion Considerations and Asynchronous Discussion Considerations

Questions

What prompts will be used for discussion? Who will come up with those prompts (e.g.: instructor, TA, or students)? 

The questions you ask and how you ask them are important for leading an effective discussion. Discussion questions do not have to be instructor-generated; asking students to generate discussion prompts is a great way to engage them in their learning. 

Draft open-ended questions that advance student learning and inspire a range of answers (avoiding closed-ended, vague, or leading questions). Vary question complexity over the course of a discussion. If there’s one right answer, ask students about their process to get to the right answer. 

The following table features sample questions that increase in cognitive complexity and is based on the six categories of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Question Type and Purpose Sample Questions
Recall 
Questions that assess basic knowledge or recollection of subject matter.
“What is the purpose of X?” 
“Describe/define X.”
“What happened after X?”
“Why did X happen?”
Understand 
Questions that ask students to explain, interpret, or give examples.
“What was the contribution of X?”
“What was the main idea?”
“Give an example of X…”
Application 
Questions that ask students to use their knowledge/skills in new ways.
“How is X an example of Y?”
“How is X related to Y?”
“Can you apply this method to…?”
Analysis 
Questions that ask students to draw connections.
“Compare/contrast X and Y.”
“What’s the importance of X?”
“How is this similar to X?”
Evaluate 
Questions that ask students to make judgements and assessments.
“How would you assess X?”
“Is there a better solution to X?” 
“How effective is X?”
Create
Questions that ask students to combine ideas and knowledge.
“How would you design X?”
“What’s a new use for X?”
“Other ways to achieve X?”

 

Warming up for Classroom Discussion 

Get students comfortable talking with their peers, you, and the TA(s) (as applicable) from the start of the course. Create opportunities for students to have pair or small group conversations to get to know one another and connect as a community. Regardless of your class size or modality (i.e.: seminars, large-lecture classes, labs), for discussions to become a norm in your course, you will need to build community early on in the course.

Get students talking early and often to foster community

How will you make peer-to-peer engagement an integral part of your class? How can you get students talking to each other? 

To encourage student participation and peer-to-peer interaction, create early and frequent opportunities for students to share and talk with each other. These opportunities can help make students more comfortable with participating in discussion, as well as help build rapport and foster trust amongst class members. Icebreakers and small group discussion opportunities provide great ways to get students talking, especially in large-enrollment classes where students may feel less connection with their peers (see sample icebreakers below).  

Establish class norms around discussion and participation

How can you communicate class norms around discussion and participation on day one? 

The first class meeting is an opportunity to warm students up to class discussion and participation from the outset. Rather than letting norms of passivity establish over the first couple of weeks, you can use the first class meeting to signal to students they will be expected to participate or interact with their peers regularly. You might ask students to do a welcoming icebreaker on the first day, or you might invite questions and syllabus discussion. No matter the activity, establishing a norm around discussion and participation at the outset will help warm students up to participating and contributing to later discussions; these norms can also be further supported by your discussion guidelines

Icebreakers: Icebreakers are a great way to establish a positive course climate. They can encourage both synchronous (in person or Zoom) and asynchronous (e.g.: CourseWorks discussion board) interactions. Some ideas for icebreaker activities related to discussion include: 

  • (Meta)Discussion about Discussions: In small groups (Zoom | CourseWorks), students introduce themselves to each other, and share their thoughts on what are the qualities of good and bad discussions?
  • Course Content: Ask students to share their thoughts about a big question that the course addresses or ask students what comes to mind when they think of an important course concept. You could even ask students to scan the syllabus and share about a particular topic or reading they are most excited about. 

Engaging in Classroom Discussion

With all of your preparation and planning complete, there are some important considerations you will need to make with both your students and yourself in mind. This section offers some strategies for engaging in classroom discussion. 

Involve students in discussion 

How will you engage all of your students in the discussion? How will you make discussion and your expectations about student participation explicit and integral to the class?

Involving your students in class discussion will allow for more student voices and perspectives to be contributed to the conversation. You might consider leveraging the time before and after class or office hours to have informal conversations and build rapport with students. Additionally, having students rotate roles and responsibilities can keep them focused and engaged. 

Student roles: Engage all students by asking them to volunteer for and rotate through roles such as facilitator, summarizer, challenger, etc. In large-enrollment courses, these roles can be assigned in breakout room discussions. For an asynchronous discussion, roles might include: discussion starter / original poster, connector to research, connector to theory. Additional synchronous roles might include: timekeeper, notetaker, discussion starter, wrapper, and chat monitor:

  • Discussion starter / original poster: Involve students in initiating the discussion. Designate 2–3 students per discussion to spark the conversation with a question, quotation, an example, or link to previous course content.
  • Discussion wrapper: Engage students in facilitating the discussion. Help students grasp take-aways. Designate 2-3 students per discussion to wrap up the discussion by identifying themes, extracting key ideas, or listing questions to explore further.
  • Student monitor: Ask a student (on a rotating basis) or TA(s) if applicable, to monitor the Zoom chat and flag important points for the class or read off the questions that are being posed. 

Student-generated questions: Prepare students for discussion and involve them in asking and answering peer questions about the topic. Invite students to post questions to a CourseWorks Discussion ahead of time or write questions in the Zoom chat. If students are expected to respond to their peer’s questions, they need to be told and guided how to do so. Highlight and use insightful student questions to prime or further the discussion.

Student-led presentations: In smaller seminar-style classes or labs, invite students to give informal presentations (by sharing their screens or using the Whiteboard in Zoom). You might ask them to share examples that relate to the topic or concept being discussed, or respond to a targeted prompt. 

 

Determine your role in discussion 

How will you facilitate the synchronous discussion? What will be your presence in the asynchronous discussion? What can students expect of your role in the discussion? 

Make your role (or that of your co-instructor(s) and/or TA(s)) in the discussion explicit so that students know what to expect of your presence, reinforcement of the discussion guidelines, and receipt of feedback. 

Actively guide the discussion to make it easy for students to do most of the talking and/or posting. This includes being present, modeling contributions, asking questions, using students’ names, giving timely feedback, affirming student contributions, and making inclusive moves such as including as many voices and perspectives and addressing issues that may arise during a conversation. 

  • For synchronous discussions, additional strategies include actively listening, giving students time to think before responding, repeating questions, and warm calling. (Unlike cold calling, warm calling is when students do pre-work and are told in advance that they will be asked to share their or their group’s response. This technique can minimize student anxiety, as well as produce higher quality responses.)
  • For asynchronous discussions, additional strategies include having parallel discussions in small groups on CourseWorks, and inviting students to post videos, audio clips, or images such as drawings, maps, charts, etc.

Manage the discussion and intervene when necessary: Manage dynamics, recognizing that your online classroom space is influenced by societal norms and expectations that may be inherently unequitable. Moderate the ongoing discussion to make sure all students have the opportunity to contribute. Ask students to explain or provide evidence to support their contributions, connect their contributions to specific course concepts and readings, redirect or keep the conversation on track, and revisit discussion guidelines as needed.

For large-enrollment courses, you might ask TAs or course assistants to join assigned breakout rooms, monitor chat or discussion board posting. While it’s important for students to do most of the talking and posting, TAs can support students in the discussion, and their presence can help keep the discussion on track. If you have TAs who lead discussion sections, you might consider sharing some of these discussion management strategies and considerations with them, and discuss how the discussion sections can and will expand upon discussions from the larger class. For other tips, see Working with TAs Online.   

Wrapping up Classroom Discussion 

Ensure that the discussion meets the learning objectives of the course or class session, and that students are leaving the discussion with the knowledge and skills that you want them to acquire. Give students an opportunity to reflect on and share what they have learned. This will help them make connections between other class material and previous class discussions. It is also an opportunity for you to gauge how the discussion went and consider what you might need to clarify or shift for future discussions. 

Debrief the Discussion

How will you know the discussion has met the learning objectives of the course or class session? How will you ensure students make connections between broader course concepts and the discussion?

Set aside time to debrief the discussion. This might be groups sharing out their discussion take-aways, designated students summarizing the key points made and questions raised, or asking students to reflect and share what they learned. Rather than summarizing the discussion yourself, partner with your students; see the section on Student Roles above for strategies. 

  • Closing Reflection: Ask students to reflect on and process their learning by identifying key takeaways. Carve out 2-5 minutes at the end of class for students to reflect on the discussion, either in writing or orally. You might consider collecting written reflections through a Google Form, CourseWorks post, or through the chat feature in Zoom. Consider asking students to not only reflect on what they learned from the discussion, but to also summarize key ideas or insights and/or pose new questions.

 

Collect Feedback, Reflect, Iterate  

How will you determine the effectiveness of class discussion? How can you invite students into creating the learning space? 

Feedback: Student feedback is a great way to gauge the effectiveness and success of class discussion. It’s important to include opportunities for feedback regularly and frequently throughout the semester; for feedback collection prompts and strategies, see the CTL’s resource on Early and Mid-Semester Student Feedback. You might collect this through PollEverywhere, a Google Form, or CourseWorks Survey. Classes of all sizes and modalities can benefit from collecting this type of feedback from students. 

Reflect: Before you engage with your students’ feedback, it’s important to take time and reflect for yourself: How do you think the discussion went? Did your students achieve the learning goals that you had hoped? If not, what might you do differently? You can then couple your own reflection with your students’ feedback to determine what is working well, as well as what might need to change for discussions to be more effective. 

Iterate: Not all class discussions will go according to plan, but feedback and reflection can help you identify those key areas for improvement. Share aggregate feedback data with your students, as well as what you hope will go differently in future discussions.   

Synchronous Discussion Considerations

While many of the considerations and activities discussed above are applicable across contexts, there are some considerations specific to synchronous discussions. These considerations are addressed below, alongside specific activities or strategies that you might ask students to engage in.

Setting up your Zoom room for Discussion

Before you engage students in a synchronous Zoom discussion, there are some important logistical considerations regarding the set up of your Zoom room. While some of these considerations are discussed below, CUIT has a host of Zoom support resources that may be helpful. 

  • Enable the appropriate settings in your Zoom account. Some features, like polls, the waiting room, breakout rooms, or Zoom Whiteboard annotation, need to be enabled prior to the start of your Zoom meeting. 
  • Determine expectations for cameras during discussion. If you are considering a “camera on” requirement, recognize that some students may face bandwidth issues which make keeping their cameras on challenging. Additionally, some students may be uncomfortable keeping their cameras on throughout the class meeting. You might consider surveying students about their ability and comfort with keeping cameras on throughout the class meetings. 
  • Consider the use of virtual backgrounds, especially as a way to ease discomfort with keeping cameras on. Some faculty have created a shared virtual background for the class to use, with the image related to the course topic in some way. It’s important to note that some devices may not support the use of virtual backgrounds. Again, it can be useful to survey your students to determine their ability and access to virtual backgrounds.  
  • Determine your display name, and grant students access to update their own. Encourage your students to update their display name in Zoom to include their preferred name and pronouns so that they can be referred to by those. This is a great way to foster community and build rapport with your students. 
  • Add a profile picture or avatar to your Zoom account, which displays should you need to turn your camera off. Likewise, encourage your students to include a profile picture or avatar. This can humanize the discussion space, especially if students need to have their cameras off. 
Check-in with your students through informal discussions

Building a course learning community is an ongoing process. Arrive early, use the first few minutes of class, linger after class or use office hours to engage in informal discussions with students. Checking in with students to see how they are doing and addressing any course-related questions or concerns can help build rapport, create a positive and welcoming climate, and helps students feel comfortable speaking up during more formal discussions. 

Give students time to think before, during, and after the discussion

Thinking time will allow students to prepare more meaningful contributions to the discussion and creates opportunities for more students, not just the ones that are the quickest to respond, to contribute to the conversation. Comfort with silence is important following a posed question. Some thinking time activities include:   

  • Silent meeting(Armstrong, 2020): Devote class time to students silently engaging with course materials and commenting in a shared document. You can follow this “silent meeting” with small group discussions. In a large enrollment class, this strategy can allow students to engage more deeply and collaboratively with material and their peers. 
  • Think-Pair-Share in Breakout Rooms: Give students time to think before participating. In response to an open-ended question, ask students to first think on their own for a few minutes, then pair up in Breakout Rooms to discuss their ideas with their partner. Finally, ask a few pairs to share their main takeaways with the class after returning to the Main Room.
  • Discussion pause: Give students time to think and reflect on the discussion so far. Pause the discussion for a few minutes for students to independently restate the question, issue, or problem, and summarize the points made. Encourage students to write down new insights, unanswered questions, etc. 
  • Extend the discussion: Encourage students to continue the class discussion by leveraging asynchronous course spaces (e.g.: CourseWorks discussion board). You may ask students to summarize the discussion, extend the discussion by contributing new ideas, or pose follow-up questions that will be discussed asynchronously or used to begin the next synchronous class discussion. 
  • Polls to launch the discussion: Pose a closed-ended question and give students time to think and respond individually. See responses (in real time if synchronous), and ask students to discuss the results. This can be a great warm up activity for a pair, small group, or whole class discussion, especially in large classes in which it may be more challenging to engage all students. Note: Poll Everywhere can be used to ask students to respond to open-ended questions. 
Provide multiple means of contributing to the discussion

In a synchronous class session, students can contribute to the discussion orally or by chatting their responses. Providing students with multiple means of contributing means that all students are invited to contribute to the discussion, without privileging oral participation. There are a number of features available in Zoom to support discussion and engagement; some of these features include: 

    • Muting and unmuting the mic for participation  
    • Raise Hand feature to indicate desire to contribute
    • Chat: Consider the ways in which you will use chat, whether as a backchannel or at specific moments, pausing to check the chat, acknowledge contributions, and address the questions posed, or pausing to ask students to chat their responses to a question but not hit enter until you say “go!” and their contributions will all appear at once.
    • Breakout rooms: Use breakout rooms to have students contribute in small groups or pairs. (Please note: Zoom does have restrictions on the number of students allowed in breakout rooms, as well as on the number of breakout rooms allowed.) 
        • Collaborative Documents: Students can communicate their ideas, thoughts, and insights in a collaborative writing space. This is especially useful when asking students to work in breakout groups and allows instructors to check on what students are discussing without the awkward silence that may occur if an instructor visits breakout rooms without advanced warning. 

Asynchronous Discussion Considerations

While many of the considerations and activities discussed above are applicable across contexts, there are some considerations specific to asynchronous discussions. These considerations are addressed below, alongside specific activities or strategies that you might ask students to engage in. 

Setting up your CourseWorks Discussion

Prior to the start of your course, you’ll want to first create a discussion in CourseWorks. During this set up process, there are a few key considerations regarding CourseWorks Discussion features:

  • Threaded or Focused Discussion: In CourseWorks, you can create both threaded and focused discussions. Threaded discussions allow students to respond directly to each other, creating an opportunity for ongoing dialogue between students. Focused discussions allow for a single response to a prompt, as well as a single comment reply. Your goals for the discussion will determine which option can best help facilitate the discussion. 
  • Require a student’s post before seeing replies: In CourseWorks, you can require that students post their initial response before seeing their classmates’ replies and responses.  
  • Allow liking: You can allow students to “like” posts on a discussion board. This can be a great way to build community amongst your students, and encourage their engagement with each other’s responses. Likewise, it can be a great way for you to gauge student interest or points of confusion on a particular topic. 
  • Graded Discussion Posts: If you will be grading students’ discussion posts, you can assign the discussion itself as a graded assignment. If you have group discussions in your course, you can similarly assign a graded group discussion.
Familiarize students with the CourseWorks Discussion tool

If you plan to use CourseWorks Discussions, get students contributing to a discussion thread from the start of the course. Invite them to introduce themselves to their peers with text, photos, audio or video. This will help set the tone early on, as well as help familiarize students to the tool itself. 

Make the course feel small

Group Discussions on CourseWorks foster student connection and allow for more substantive or deeper conversations than a whole class discussion board. Regardless of class size, students may welcome the opportunity to have more meaningful discussions with a few of their peers. 

Instructor presence is also important to make a course feel small and welcoming. Subscribe to a CourseWorks discussion thread to follow the conversation and intervene/comment as needed. Make connections explicit and pose open-ended questions. Provide global feedback (whether text, audio, or video), and let students know if the discussion and their responses are meeting the goals of the discussion. Email individual students privately to encourage them as needed whether they are intimidated by their peers or have not contributed.

Encourage students to respond in a variety of media

Invite students to contribute text, audio, or video responses. Multimedia responses will allow students to connect their learning, as well as connect with each other. 

Ask students to take the lead on the discussion board

Invite students to post open-ended or thought-provoking questions to launch discussion, connect to course material, and encourage them to respond to each other, and build upon their peers’ responses. 

Hybrid/HyFlex Discussion Considerations

Engaging synchronous students who are both in-person and remote can require its own set of considerations. While the same overarching principles for preparation and shared strategies apply, there are some ways you can ensure that all students are able to equally participate and learn from each other through discussion. 

Familiarize yourself with the in-class technology

Before the start of the course, visit your assigned classroom and test out the technology available in the room: trying out the projector, microphones, and audio; adjusting camera(s); connecting your own device(s); and your positioning in the space (e.g., will you need to stay close to the instructor station/podium or your computer so your remote students can hear you?). If using the chalkboard or whiteboard during the discussion, make sure it will be visible to your remote students, or consider using a device and stylus to project in-class and to your remote learners. 

You will also want to determine expectations for in-person students’ in-class technology. Will they need to bring their devices to engage with their remote peers? If so, be sure to ask students to bring headsets to help avoid audio feedback. HyFlex instructors repeatedly emphasize the importance of pre-class announcements, instructions to students for testing equipment or features, and explicit written directives during class activities to minimize the chance that class time is wasted managing confusion about how to engage (Bower et. al., 2014). 

Develop a plan in case there are technology issues that prevent in-person and/or remote students from fully engaging in the discussion. This may include having an asynchronous Discussion on the CourseWorks set-up and ready to go. Communicate the plan to students so they know what to do and what is expected. 

Provide clear instructions and guidelines for participation

While discussion guidelines are important for any class format, they can be especially useful for helping students adjust to a HyFlex classroom. Discuss with your students, both in-person and remote, what technology features will be used and how (e.g., ask all in-person students to mute microphones when not talking to avoid audio feedback; use the raise hand feature in Zoom; contribute to chat), the options students will have to participate, and the expectations for instructor-student or TA-student, and peer-to-peer interactions. Communicate the technology needs and setup for all learners. Expect meaningful synchronous discussions to take more time (this includes to set-up and provide opportunities for all students to participate) and plan accordingly. 

Ensure that all students can view and hear the classroom

In a hybrid/HyFlex classroom, students’ views of the classroom are important to consider. Remote students may feel more exposed during whole class discussions than their in-person peers: when they speak, their faces can occupy a full screen, in contrast to in-person students whose faces are generally aggregated on a screen. 

To help online students engage in the discussion and ensure that everyone can hear the discussion, repeat questions and comments from in-person students for remote learners. Ask all students to state their name before contributing to the discussion. Additionally, you might consider switching the camera view during appropriate moments so students can see their in-person peers, rather than only the instructor and/or slides. Acknowledge student contributions whether orally or in the Chat; this will help them feel heard and part of the course. 

Partner with your students

In a hybrid/HyFlex classroom, it’s important for all students to engage with each other. Consider asking your in-person students to take on the role of chat monitor on a rotating basis, and/or build in specific moments when to address remote participants directly. Additionally, if using breakout rooms for small group discussion, consider partnering your remote and in-person students to help foster community. (Note: if you’re partnering in-person and remote students, it’s important that all in-person participants use headsets to help avoid audio feedback.)  

Check-in with your students during discussions

This is especially useful for initial discussions as in-person and remote students adjust to discussions in the HyFlex classroom, inviting them to speak up so that issues, questions, concerns can be addressed in real time, and discussion guidelines revised accordingly.

References and Further Reading 

Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Armstrong, B. (2020). To Spark Discussion in a Zoom Class, Try a ‘Silent Meeting.’ The Chronicle of Higher Education. November 18, 2020.

Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E.F.; Major, C.H.; and Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. 

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2016). The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking. Wiley.

Cashin, W.E. (2011). Effective Classroom Discussions. IDEA Paper #49. Retrieved from www.ideaedu.org 

Center for Research on Teaching and Learning. Guidelines For Classroom Interactions. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/examples-discussion-guidelines

Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for Teaching, 2nd Edition. 

Hancock, C., & Rowland, B. (2017). Online and out of synch: Using discussion roles in online asynchronous discussions. Cogent Education, 4(1).

Howard, J.R. (2015). Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online. Wiley. 

Howard, J.R. (2019) How to Hold a Better Class Discussion: Advice Guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190523-ClassDiscussion

The K. Patricia Cross Academy. Making Good Use of Online Discussion Boards. Retrieved from https://kpcrossacademy.org/making-good-use-of-online-discussion-boards/ 

CTL Support 

For assistance with discussion pedagogy, please request a Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) consultation by emailing CTLFaculty@columbia.edu.

For assistance with the instructional technologies mentioned (CourseWorks, Poll Everywhere, Zoom), please contact the CTL Learning Designer assigned to your school or department, or email the CTL at ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu.

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.