How Discussions Happen in an Online Class

iStudent Blog

Although you may be familiar with Internet discussion boards, you still may wonder how discussions occur in an online class.  Each instructor has different rules that are outlined in the specific greensheet for a particular course, but there are some broad similarities that characterize the nature of discussions in SLIS.

Asynchronous versus Synchronous Discussions

Some classes will offer synchronous (in real time) meetings in a virtual classroom environment called Elluminate (although this name is in the process of switching to Collaborate even as we speak!).  These sessions are analogous to online chat rooms.

The discussions this post focuses on are asynchronous, which means that students dip in and out of the discussion as their own schedules permit (very similar to Internet discussion boards).  Most classes have some discussion posting requirements, the frequency of which will vary according to instructor.  For example, some instructors require weekly discussion posts, while others assign less frequent postings.  If you would like to view samples of course syllabi, visit our Course Web Pages site.

A typical scenario is one in which an instructor assigns weekly readings, to which each student must post one initial response of say, 300-500 words.  (The requirement can be a lot less specific—I am only offering one example.)  Then, during the week, that student needs to respond to at least two classmate posts with approximately 100-word responses.  This word count requirement is helpful in preventing students from shooting off single-line, insubstantial messages such as, “I agree!”  The instructors are looking for reasons why students agree.

Rich Discussions

The resulting discussions that occur offer a rich environment in which students teach each other a lot through their postings, something that is often not possible in a face-to-face classroom.  The asynchronous nature of the discussion allows for thought and participation that might not occur in a regular classroom, and thereby ensures that everyone is involved.

Feel free to ask any questions about this topic by leaving a comment below—it would be great practice for your future class discussions!


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