Discussing Discussions

WA-CC 2017, Tacoma, WA

This talk is available at tinyurl.com/wa-ccdiscuss

Amelia Garripoli, CIS Faculty, Olympic College


Canvas Discussions

Sure there are the nuts and bolts, but how do you make them useful for students?

Discussing Discussions

  • Benefits

  • Challenges

  • Techniques

Discussion Benefits

  • Online class communication

  • Preparation for group work

  • Writing skills

  • Active learning opportunities

Discussion Challenges

  • Plagiarism (wiki pages, stack overflow, textbook, …​)

    • google key phrases in their text

    • require references

  • Fluff content

    • base wordcounts on substantive content

    • provide examples

  • Brief responses

    • given them techniques: the five why’s, ask-and-answer

Discussion Techniques 1-7

Discussion Techniques, 8-+


  • Asking a question that has them look into a module topic in more depth

    • does this work for you?

    • lots of echos of the book or the video/class

    • not much outside effort

  • Posts tend to be repetitive

  • Responses tend to be repetitive and fluffy

  • Word counts lead to "fluff generators" (not a course outcome)


  • Students sign up for a word from module vocabulary list

  • They post a definition, an original example, and a source

  • They post responses "expanding on the post" — this is difficult for many. Good idea to post a response in the first board to give them an example

  • good variety, need as many terms as students

  • may have to step in and adjust incorrect posts

Pick-a-topic (think wiki)

  • Students sign up for a topic via student edited page

  • Responses can expand the post or give constructive criticism

  • Can expose the posts from the start

  • Posts are refreshing

  • Can get some echos in responses (remember, they see them all)

  • Can potentially give credit for updating or adding to their initial post

Ask One, Answer One

  • Have students ask open-ended questions about the module

  • Each student has to answer one (they pick with tagged responses)

  • This is a form of self-review, can be unbalanced if skill levels are wide

  • Seed it with an open-ended question to set an example, and to help the early responders get their work done

    • for example, "there’s a bug in this code, what can you do to figure out where it is"

Future Application

  • Ask students to describe how they will use this module’s skills in the future

  • Can be difficult for those who are present but not goal-oriented

  • Tends to spark some interesting responses, as people see things in others' future use they hadn’t thought about

  • Need to make sure the class discussion/supporting material includes "in the workplace" type of information for students to tie this to their potential future

Best Practices

  • Ask students to provide a "best practice" based on the course material

  • Material has to be convention-driven for this to work, not prescribed; it has to have "wiggle room" for it to need best practices.

  • Tends to spark some interesting responses, as people see things in others' best practices they hadn’t thought about

  • Reinforces the value of the conventions

  • May need to step in if the b.p. contains errors in thinking


  • Ask students to provide trouble-shooting advice based on the course material

  • Since everything can be done wrong, this is useful in helping them guide one another

  • Need to be careful that they don’t share homework solutions in this

  • Tends to spark some interesting responses, as people see things in others' troubleshooting they hadn’t considered

  • May need to step in if the advice contains errors in thinking

Pick One

  • Provide 4-5 questions and let students pick the one they want to respond to; be clear they PICK ONE

  • Surprisingly, not everyone will choose the first one.

  • Some repetition, but gives students posts to respond to that are not on their own topic

  • Students can self-select to respond to someone who did the same question, or who did a different one

  • Students sometimes answer all briefly in the hopes of getting full credit (but such posts are very light on content)

Series of questions

  • Provide a series of related questions or points for them to respond to, such as:

    • When was the first time you used a computer?

    • What has changed about computers since you first used one?

    • What do you view as the most interesting change in computers since you first knew about them?

  • Makes it easier to have a post with enough concrete content

  • Responses can often be challenging; a student’s response to someone else tends to be an echo of their own post


  • Give (or have self-signup) a research topic: material not covered in the course, but relevant to it

  • The post is a summary of findings with sources cited

  • Responders have trouble with this: tend to say "good job". Good to direct them with something like "describe how you might make use of the poster’s information in your future work in this area"

Find a Video

  • Have them look for a video, tutorial, or other relevant course supporting material, describe it and evaluate it for course use and after course use

  • Responders compare your find to theirs (or to another one if they found the same one)

  • Lets a student respond to themselves and get it done

Peer Review of a Lab

  • Have students post their lab work

  • The key work is the response; they evaluate their peers' work, giving positive feedback and constructive criticism.

  • Lets students practice higher-level skills of evaluation

  • Need to tailor the labs so plagiarism isn’t directly possible

  • Lets everyone see everyones' work, unlike a Canvas "peer review" — they can comment on the reviews, and learn from how their peers do the reviews.

Muddy Point

  • Ask students to describe the muddiest point of the module and how they resolved it

    • gets them actively searching out information

  • Responses can expand sources or explanations to further aid both poster and responder, and all other readers

Team Building Exercise

  • Ask One, Answer One, Address One:

    • each student asks an open-ended question

    • each student answers one question

    • original poster evaluates the answer

  • Teaches diplomacy in evaluation

  • Helps teams learn to interact with each other

Other possibilities

  • Present students with common or predictable misconceptions about a designated concept, principle, or process. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and explain why.

  • Give them a series of prompts to complete to reflect on the module’s contents, such as:

    • I became more aware of …​

    • I was surprised about …​

    • I related to …​

Other possibilities 6FA

  • Each student is given a letter of the alphabet, and must write a post on a word relevant to the module that starts with that letter

  • Provide an example of your own devising that exhibits an outcome of the module (Blooms 2 outcomes are great for this)

  • Write a 3-2-1 post: 3 things you found out; 2 interesting things; and 1 question you still have

    • responses can critique, answer, expand on the posts

Other possibilities 6FA

  • Provide 3-5 statements that aren’t clearly true or false, but are somewhat debatable. Have them evaluate them on a Likert scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree) and explain their evaluation

  • Circle: something still going around in your head. Triangle: something pointed that stood out in your mind. Square: Something that "squared" or agreed with your thinking.

  • KWL: In your post write what you already Knew before the module, what you Want to learn but don’t know, and what you Learned in this module. (can lead to vague posts, or frustrations getting expressed as W’s)


This talk is available at tinyurl.com/wa-ccdiscuss