Q&A: Online Classroom Discussions

Answer: I like those too, and yes, we have them online. In fact, class discussions are one of the most useful aspects of online learning.

Think about those classroom discussions you like so much. Imagine a teacher asking a question, and, in a good class, a sea of hands shooting up as people are eager to share their answers. That's great…but sometimes it isn't the best situation for learning.

Think again about holding your hand in the air. You're also holding your thought in your mind, ready to go. In most cases, that means you aren't listening to the other people talking. This isn't specific to you: this is how people are. The pressure on their attention overwhelms them. I can't tell you how many times students have said the same thing as the person who spoke just before them, because they had been waiting to say it for five minutes.

There's also more of a power dynamic in the traditional classroom, and an emphasis on things that don't really have anything to do with the quality of your thinking: sometimes the first person to put his hand up is just rude, or simply, just fast. Wrong, but fast.

Online, you have time to reflect on your answers. You can read other people's comments, and not have to choose between listening (reading) and remembering your own comments. There is no rush to be first, and no way anyone can interrupt you. People can still be rude…but rude comments can be deleted from an online classroom fairly easily.

On the teacher's end, discussion prompts can be prepared ahead of time, so they are richer (perhaps even multimedia). There's less thinking on your feet, and more thinking at greater depth.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.