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Research based practices for improving the effectiveness of asynchronous online discussion boards.

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Asynchronous online discussion boards are an effective tool for developing and enhancing critical thinking skills and writing in online as well as in-person courses. In this teacher-ready research review, we examine the literature on the benefits of implementing asynchronous online discussion boards as a way of fostering critical thinking and writing skills in psychology courses. We subsequently discuss some of the challenges associated with online discussion boards and offer solutions to address them. One of the primary challenges is the lack of participation or high-level participation of students. To address this challenge, we outline strategies for communicating the purpose and value of the discussion, setting clear expectations for responses, and designing a structure for the discussion. We also review best practices for designing effective question prompts, innovative approaches to discussion questions, and strategies to engage students in the discussion. Sample question prompts for psychology courses as well as a grading rubric for the discussions are provided. Finally, the role of the instructor in facilitating the discussion and techniques for doing so effectively are discussed.
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TEACHER-READY RESEARCH REVIEW
Research Based Practices for Improving the Effectiveness of
Asynchronous Online Discussion Boards
Maya Aloni
Western Connecticut State University
Christine Harrington
Middlesex County College
Asynchronous online discussion boards are an effective tool for developing and enhancing
critical thinking skills and writing in online as well as in-person courses. In this teacher-
ready research review, we examine the literature on the benefits of implementing asyn-
chronous online discussion boards as a way of fostering critical thinking and writing skills
in psychology courses. We subsequently discuss some of the challenges associated with
online discussion boards and offer solutions to address them. One of the primary challenges
is the lack of participation or high-level participation of students. To address this challenge,
we outline strategies for communicating the purpose and value of the discussion, setting
clear expectations for responses, and designing a structure for the discussion. We also
review best practices for designing effective question prompts, innovative approaches to
discussion questions, and strategies to engage students in the discussion. Sample question
prompts for psychology courses as well as a grading rubric for the discussions are provided.
Finally, the role of the instructor in facilitating the discussion and techniques for doing so
effectively are discussed.
Keywords: asynchronous online discussion boards, critical thinking, discussion
facilitation, question prompts, Socratic questions
“For this feeling of wonder shows that you are a
philosopher, since wonder is the only beginning of
philosophy”
(Plato, Theaetetus, 155d, trans. 1997)
Socrates, an early Greek philosopher and
teacher, is known for teaching his students by
engaging them in guided discussions. He be-
lieved students learned better when they arrived
to conclusions on their own rather than when
the teacher provided them with the information
(Paul & Elder, 2016). This method of teaching
continues to be implemented today and has been
extended to the online environment. Asynchro-
nous online discussion boards are an effective
tool for actively engaging students in discus-
sions in online as well as in-person courses, thus
extending the opportunity for discussion outside
of the classroom (Chadha, 2017;Lo, Johnson,
& Tenorio, 2011). The unique feature of asyn-
chronous online discussions, as opposed to tra-
ditional in-class discussions, is that students can
respond to the questions, and to each other, at
their own pace without the constraint of time
and place (Thompson, 2006). This feature af-
fords students more time to reflect on their
answers and support their arguments with evi-
dence, which develops critical thinking and
writing skills (Arend, 2009;Szabo & Schwartz,
2011). Yet, this is not always easily achieved in
online discussion boards. Instructors often find
it challenging to construct question prompts
which will lead to high-level responses from
Maya Aloni, Department of Psychology, Western Con-
necticut State University; Christine Harrington, Department
of History and Social Science, Middlesex County College.
We thank Shane Murphy and Tara Kuther for their com-
ments and Jessica Melendez for her assistance with refer-
ences.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Maya Aloni, Department of Psychology, Western
Connecticut State University, 181 White Street, Danbury,
CT 06810. E-mail: alonim@wcsu.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology
© 2018 American Psychological Association 2018, Vol. 4, No. 4, 271–289
2332-2101/18/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/stl0000121
271
students. Once a conversation has been initi-
ated, instructors can also find it challenging to
sustain the conversation without dominating it
(Dennen, 2005;Rovai, 2007;Thompson, 2006).
Fortunately, there are many techniques that
psychology instructors can utilize to elevate the
quality of students’ responses and effectively
utilize the asynchronous discussion board in
their courses. In this teacher-ready research re-
view, we summarize the literature on the bene-
fits and challenges associated with incorporat-
ing the asynchronous discussion board in online
formats as well as embedding it within in-
person courses. We offer research-based practi-
cal suggestions for improving the effectiveness
of this teaching method in psychology courses.
Specifically, we review strategies for communi-
cating the purpose of the discussion board and
setting clear expectations for the responses, set-
ting the structure for the discussion, creating
effective question prompts, and techniques for
facilitating the discussion.
The Asynchronous Discussion Board as a
Tool for Promoting Content Knowledge,
Writing, and Critical Thinking Skills
In asynchronous online discussions, students
engage in a conversation about a topic related to
the course content by providing initial re-
sponses to a question posed, responding to ideas
shared by others, and by additional contribu-
tions. The unique feature of asynchronous on-
line discussions, as opposed to traditional in-
class discussions, is that students can respond to
the questions, and to each other, at their own
pace without the constraint of time and place
(Thompson, 2006). Online discussions can be
effectively used in both introductory and ad-
vanced courses (Chadha, 2017). Asynchronous
discussion boards are a crucial element of on-
line courses as they provide students with an
opportunity to interact with one another, but this
teaching method can also support learning in
traditional in-person classes (Lo et al., 2011).
The popularity of discussion boards has been
made possible through their availability in most
Learning Management Systems which are
widely used in higher education (Dahlstrom,
Brooks, & Bichsel, 2014).
Incorporating an online discussion board within
an in-person class can extend the discussion out-
side of the classroom, thus providing students with
the opportunity to be more engaged with the ma-
terial and more connected to other students and
the professor (Rovai, 2002;Yang, 2008). Given
limited class time, this teaching tool, which can be
used prior to or after a class session, can help
students achieve the course learning outcomes by
engaging them in meaningful work throughout the
week in between class sessions. Lo et al. (2011)
found that adding an online component to a tradi-
tional face-to-face course increased student satis-
faction with the course and facilitated the devel-
opment of critical thinking skills. Alzahrani
(2017) utilized an online discussion board as a
supplement to in-person discussions and found
that students in the sections that incorporated the
online discussion board performed better on the
final exam than students in sections that did not
incorporate it.
Another advantage of online discussions is
that they provide students with the opportunity
to learn from their peers by reading others’
responses to posts as well as following the dis-
cussion threads in response to their own posts
(Xie, 2013). Exposure to peer responses is also
associated with an increase in the negotiation of
meaning (Eryilmaz, Thoms, Mary, Kim, & van
der Pol, 2015). Researchers have found that
having access to peer responses can help stu-
dents improve their self-efficacy (Huang, 2017).
Although the benefits of peer learning are not
unique to online discussion boards, and there
has been much research on the benefits of in-
corporating peer-to-peer learning within the
classroom (Topping, 2005), the discussion
board is a convenient tool for facilitating peer-
to-peer learning. For example, results of a study
conducted by Eryilmaz et al. (2015) showed
that when students were required to highlight,
increase the font size, and select the levels of
importance of key points made by their peers in
an online discussion board, they spent more
time negotiating the meaning of the information
compared with an instructor-led or a control
group who did not utilize these functions. Xie
(2013) required students to rate one another’s
posts and tracked the number of replies students
received to their posts. The ratings and replies
students’ received from peers significantly pre-
dicted their feelings of competence and intrinsic
motivation. In another study, Cathey (2007) uti-
lized the discussion board specifically for the
purpose of peer review. Students taking a Social
Psychology course posted an essay in the online
272 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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discussion forum and then peers provided feed-
back on the essay. Students reported that read-
ing the essays of classmates helped them im-
prove their own writing skills and that they
learned as much from commenting on class-
mates’ essays as they did from writing their own.
The asynchronous discussion boards also
provide students with the opportunity to prac-
tice their writing skills frequently and in a less
intimidating manner than writing term papers
(Foushée, 2018). In addition, because discus-
sion posts tend to be shorter than APA style
papers, they enable students to practice writing
in a succinct manner which is a skill they will
need in the professional world (Warnock,
2009). This advantage is not unique to online
discussions. Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, and Bu-
bier (2007), for instance, found that incorporat-
ing short written assignments in their in-person
introductory psychology course improved stu-
dents’ conceptual learning. However, online
discussion boards are another useful tool that
instructors can use to help psychology students
develop their writing skills.
Another advantage of online discussions is
that they can involve more introverted students
as well as students high in the personality trait
of neuroticism who tend to be intimidated about
participating in-person (Amichai-Hamburger,
Wainapel, & Fox, 2002;Caspi, Chajut, Saporta,
& Beyth-Marom, 2006). For example, Caspi et
al. (2006) compared students’ self-reported lev-
els of participation in online and in-person
courses and found that although the extroverted
students reported participating more in-person,
the introverted and neurotic students reported
participating more online. Similarly, Amichai-
Hamburger et al. (2002) found that introverted
students reported that the online discussions
provided a better match for their “real-me” than
the in-person environment.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of asyn-
chronous discussion boards is that they provide
students with the time necessary to reflect on their
answers and formulate coherent arguments (Ar-
end, 2009). Students have more time to backup
their claims with supporting evidence, which leads
to more substantive responses. In one study, re-
searchers compared student dialogue in face-to-
face and online discussions and found that the
quality of critical thinking in the online discus-
sions was greater than the face-to-face discussions
in terms of students’ tendency to justify their ar-
guments with evidence (Guiller, Durndell, &
Ross, 2008). In another study conducted with stu-
dents in an Educational Psychology course, stu-
dents in a course that required participation in
online discussions, as compared with students
who completed reflection papers, showed an in-
crease in critical thinking skills throughout the
semester (Szabo & Schwartz, 2011). This was
measured by a rubric that was developed to align
with Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy.
It is important to note that online discussion
boards are not inherently better than in-person
discussions at fostering critical thinking skills.
Some studies have shown that instructors’ level
of interactivity is a greater predictor of students’
critical thinking skills than the mode of instruc-
tion. Goode et al. (2018) found this to be the case
when comparing online and hybrid courses.
Mandernach, Forrest, Babutzke, and Manker
(2009) found that the instructor was a more
important factor than modality when comparing
online to face-to-face courses. The benefit of
online discussion boards compared with in-
person discussion is that students have added
time to construct their responses. Student per-
formance is also increased in in-person courses
as a function of time; longer wait time between
student answers and the instructor’s questions is
related to greater student performance (Ingram
& Elliott, 2016). The advantage of asynchro-
nous online discussion boards is that the added
time is already built into the asynchronous plat-
form (Arend, 2009).
In short, online discussion boards are a useful
tool for engaging more students in the discussion,
improving students’ writing skills by providing
students with more opportunities to write short
low-stake responses and increasing students’ ex-
posure to peer responses. The greater time af-
forded to students to compose their responses and
search for available resources is also a reason for
why online discussion boards are successful at
developing students’ critical thinking skills. Al-
though these benefits are not unique to online
discussions, the online discussion board is a useful
vehicle for achieving these goals.
Challenges Associated With
Asynchronous Discussions
One of the greatest challenges of online discus-
sions is low student participation and engagement
(Caspi et al., 2006). There are many reasons why
273ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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students either do not contribute at all to online
discussions or contribute in a shallow manner
(Hew, Cheung, & Ng, 2010). Several studies have
shown that students do not participate when they
are confused about the instructor’s expectations of
them or do not understand the purpose and value
of the discussion (Balaji & Chakrabarti, 2010;
Kim, 2013;Lee, 2013;Yeh & Van Buskirk,
2005). Students are also less likely to participate
when there are no clear deadlines for posting and
when the discussion is not factored into the course
grade (Dennen, 2005;Pena-Shaff & Altman,
2015).
In one study conducted by Pena-Shaff and Alt-
man (2015), Educational Psychology students
were randomly assigned to either a structured or
less structured online discussion condition. In the
structured condition, follow-up questions were
used and follow-up answers counted toward the
grade. In the less structured condition, all of the
questions were posed in the discussion prompt.
Not surprisingly, students in the less structured
condition tended to only make contributions in the
first couple of days after the discussion question
was posted, whereas more sustained conversation
was found in the structured condition. Students
were also more likely to respond when they were
required to do so.
The initial question prompt the instructor
poses is another important factor in student en-
gagement (Bradley, Thom, Hayes, & Hay,
2008;Howell, LaCour, & McGlawn, 2017).
This is especially the case when the initial dis-
cussion prompt calls for a single fact-based
answer, because once this question has been
answered there isn’t much room for subsequent
contributions (Dennen, 2005;Ertmer, Sadaf, &
Ertmer, 2011). As a result, students often repeat
content or ideas which have already been dis-
cussed, simply reiterate their agreement with
comments made by a classmate without dem-
onstrating critical thinking skills (Toledo,
2006), or opt not to participate because of not
knowing how to add value to the conversation
(Hew et al., 2010).
Poor discussion board management by the
instructor can influence the quality of students’
responses (Arend, 2009). One of the challenges
that instructors often face is how to elevate the
quality of online discussions without dominat-
ing the conversation as too much intervention
by the instructor can interfere with students’
knowledge building (Dennen, 2005;Rovai,
2007;Thompson, 2006). In addition, instructors
should be cautious about sharing their opinion
as this can stifle conversation (Arend, 2009).
Lower levels of participation are also likely
when students do not feel connected to or val-
ued by their classmates or instructor (Garrison,
Anderson, & Archer, 2001;Rovai, 2007;
Vonderwell, 2003). As a result, students are less
likely to contribute to an online discussion
when other students or the instructor do not
show interest in their comments (Hew et al.,
2010). For example, Naranjo, Onrubia, and
Segués (2012) used a case study approach in an
Educational Psychology course to determine
variables that impacted student participation in
online discussions. Results indicated that stu-
dents were less likely to make significant con-
tributions when others in the class did not re-
spond to their post.
In addition to feeling disconnected, students
might also find it more difficult to express their
emotions online. Gao, Zhang, and Franklin
(2013), for instance, note that the lack of emo-
tional cues is one of the challenges associated with
online conversations and that this is one of the
reasons for less meaningful and effective commu-
nication in online conversations. Wang and Woo
(2007) report that students found face-to-face dis-
cussions to be more authentic than online discus-
sions. The researchers attribute this to the fact that
in the face-to-face discussions students could see
each other’s facial expressions and could clarify
any misunderstandings immediately. In contrast,
in the online forum there is a longer delay between
responses and, as a result, misunderstandings take
longer to be addressed. In another study, graduate
students reported that it was difficult to interpret
other students’ comments, decipher intentions, as
well as interpret the reasons for lack of responses
in a text-only online environment (Murphy &
Coleman, 2004).
Personality and psychological factors can also
inhibit participation. Students who lack self-
confidence for the task at hand are less likely to
participate especially when they are not provided
with models or support (Xie, 2013). Chen and
Caropreso (2004) found that students low in ex-
traversion, agreeableness, and openness tended to
post one-sided messages that discouraged contri-
butions from other students and were often unre-
lated to the discussion topic.
Students may also cease to contribute be-
cause of difficulty keeping track of an extensive
274 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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discussion thread. Students can experience in-
formation overload if several subdiscussions
occur simultaneously (Hew et al., 2010), or if
there are too many participants in the discussion
(Rovai, 2002). The hierarchical structure of the
discussion can make it difficult for students to
see connections between posts (Gao, 2011). Fi-
nally, students might fail to participate in the
discussion because of technical difficulties
(Hew et al., 2010). Table 1 provides a summary
of the benefits and challenges associated with
online discussion boards.
Teaching Strategies for Addressing the
Challenges Associated With
Online Discussions
There are several ways in which instructors can
increase students’ participation and the quality of
their writing and critical thinking skills in online
discussion boards. In this section, the following
four important considerations will be discussed:
(a) communicating the purpose of the discussion
board and expectations for responses; (b) setting
the structure for the discussion; (c) creating effec-
tive question prompts; and (d) techniques for fa-
cilitating the discussion. Table 2 summarizes these
best practices.
Communicating the Purpose of the
Discussion Board and Expectations
for Responses
Many students may not be familiar with the
online discussion board, and as a result may not
understand the benefits of fully engaging in this
learning activity. To begin, it is essential for
instructors to help students understand the pur-
pose and value of online discussions. When
instructors clearly communicate the rationale
for using online discussions as a learning tool
and the goal of each discussion, students will be
more motivated to engage in the dialogue
(Cheung & Hew, 2005;Lee, 2013).
Instructors can communicate the importance
of the discussion board by weighing it into the
course grade, thereby increasing students’ ex-
trinsic motivation to participate (Yeh & Van
Table 1
Summary of the Benefits and Challenges of Utilizing Online Discussion Boards
Benefits Challenges
• Students work at their own pace (Thompson, 2006) • Lack of student participation and engagement
attributable to:
• Extends opportunity for discussion outside of the
classroom (Lo, Johnson, & Tenorio, 2011;Rovai, 2002;
Yang, 2008)
• Facilitates peer learning by enabling students to see the
responses of others (Cathey, 2007;Eryilmaz et al.
2015;Huang, 2017;Xie, 2013)
• Enables students to practice writing succinctly
(Warnock, 2009) in a less intimidating forum than
term-papers (Foushée, 2018)
• Involves more introverted students and students’ high in
the personality traits of neuroticism that find it more
challenging to participate in traditional in-person
discussions (Amichai-Hamburger, Wainapel, & Fox,
2002;Caspi, Chajut, Saporta, & Beyth-Marom, 2006)
• Provides students with more time to reflect on their
answers which facilitates critical thinking skills and the
ability to support arguments with evidence (Arend,
2009;Guiller, Durndell, & Ross, 2008;Szabo &
Schwartz, 2011)
• confusion about the purpose of the discussion board
and the instructor’s expectations (Balaji &
Chakrabarti, 2010;Dennen, 2005;Kim, 2013;Lee,
2013;Pena-Shaff & Altman, 2015;Yeh & Van
Buskirk, 2005)
• low self-confidence (Xie, 2013)
• responses of classmates discouraging participation
(Chen & Caropreso, 2004)
• difficulty keeping track of an extensive discussion
thread (Hew, Cheung, & Ng, 2010)
• technical difficulties (Hew et al., 2010)
• Creating question prompts that can foster high-level
critical thinking in students (Bradley, Thom, Hayes, &
Hay, 2008;Howell, LaCour, & McGlawn, 2017)
• Determining the level and type of instructor
involvement in the conversation (Arend, 2009;Dennen,
2005;Rovai, 2007;Thompson, 2006)
• Students feeling disconnected in the online environment
(Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001;Hew et al., 2010;
Naranjo, Onrubia, & Segués, 2012;Rovai, 2007)
• Misunderstandings and difficulty interpreting the
responses of others due to the lack of emotional cues
(Gao, Zhang, & Franklin, 2013;Murphy & Coleman,
2004;Wang & Woo, 2007)
275ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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Buskirk, 2005). In one study, Rovai (2003)
found that the number of messages per week as
well as students’ sense of community increased
when the discussion board accounted for 10% to
20% of the course grade. Therefore, having the
discussion board account for a moderate
amount of the course grade (10% to 20%) is
sufficient to increase student participation and
sense of community. When determining how
much the online discussions should count to-
ward a final grade, it is important to consider
many factors such as motivation, the number of
conversations, and the amount of work related
to each conversation. Discussions that require
students to find additional research on topics
should count more than discussions that require
only minimal outside work. To help students
focus on learning and improving their writing
Table 2
A Summary of Best Practices for Improving the Effectiveness of Asynchronous Discussion Boards
Best practice Teaching strategies
Communicate purpose and
expectations
• Communicate the purpose and importance of the discussion board to increase student
motivation (Cheung & Hew, 2005;Lee, 2013)
• Utilize a grading structure where online discussions count for a moderate amount of the
final course grade (Yeh & Van Buskirk, 2005;Rovai, 2003), especially when students
are required to find additional resources to contribute to the conversation (Harrington &
Thomas, 2018)
• Provide students with a grading rubric which outlines expectations for initial and follow
up responses (Andrade, 2000;Angeli, Valanides, & Bonk, 2003;Gilbert & Dabbagh,
2005;Eryilmaz, Thoms, Mary Kim, & van der Pol, 2015;Panadero & Jonsson, 2013;
Penny & Murphy, 2009;Wyss, Freedman, & Siebert, 2014)
Set a structure for the
discussion
• Set multiple deadlines for initial and follow up responses (Black, 2005)
• Enable students to see the responses of others before posting their own response
(Jacobi, 2017)
• Ask students to label their messages to help others follow the flow of the conversation
(Jeong, 2004)
• Create separate spaces for introductions, ice-breakers, socialization and question and
answer forums (Arend, 2009;Jeong, 2004;Lam, 2004;Rovai, 2007)
• Consider alternative structures to threaded discussions such as a discussion map (Gao,
2011)
• Divide the class into small discussion groups (Akcaoglu & Lee, 2016;Kim, 2013;Qiu
et al., 2014;Rovai, 2002)
Create effective question
prompts
• Create question prompts that target Bloom’s highest levels of critical thinking; analysis,
synthesis and evaluation (Bradley et al., 2008;Ertmer, Sadaf, & Ertmer, 2011)
• Use divergent question prompts such as “brainstorm”, “focal” and “playground”
questions instead of convergent question prompts (Bradley et al., 2008;Ertmer et al.,
2011;Howell, Akapnudo, Chen, Sutherlin, & James, 2014;Howell et al., 2017)
• Incorporate videos and word clouds into the question prompts (Clark, Strudler, &
Grove, 2015;DeNoyelles, et al., 2015;Fernandez, Simo, Castillo, & Sallan, 2014)
• Utilize creative approaches such as role-playing, WebQuests and debates in the question
prompt (Hou, 2012;Jin & Jeong, 2013;Kanuka, Rourke, & Laflamme, 2007)
• Self-assess the effectiveness of the question (Harrington & Aloni, 2013a)
Facilitate discussion
effectively
• Participate to increase teacher-presence, but avoid over-involvement or under-
involvement (Arend, 2009;Dennen, 2005;Morris, Xu, & Finnegan, 2005;An, Shin, &
Lim, 2009)
• Focus on providing meaningful contributions such as pointing out themes, highlighting
important posts, correcting inaccurate posts and summarizing the conversation (Wang,
Chen, & Liang, 2011)
• Engage students in the discussion by assigning them to various roles such as starter,
skeptic, moderator, theoretician, devil’s advocate, wrapper, research reporter, method
evaluator and hypothesis generator (Aloni, 2016;De Wever, Van Keer, Schellens, &
Valcke, 2009;Olesova, Slavin, & Lim, 2016;Wise, Saghafian, & Padmanabhan, 2012)
• Utilize Socratic Questions in your responses to students and teach students to ask these
questions of one another (Harrington & Aloni, 2013b;King, 1995;MacKnight, 2000;
Paul, 1995;Strang, 2011;Toledo, 2006;Yang, Newby, & Bill, 2005;Yang, 2008)
276 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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and thinking skills, Harrington and Thomas
(2018) suggest that instructors consider count-
ing discussions early in the term less than dis-
cussions later on in the term. Toward the end of
the term, students have had more opportunities
to benefit from feedback about their writing.
Providing students with a grading rubric—a
one- to two-page document which describes
varying levels of quality for an assignment—is
an effective way to communicate expectations
related to participation in online discussions
(Andrade, 2000). Rubrics can increase the like-
lihood that students will engage in meaningful
conversations that align to course learning out-
comes and instructor expectations. For instance,
without guidance, students may focus on per-
sonal experiences without tying these experi-
ences to the content learned (Angeli, Valanides,
& Bonk, 2003). However, a rubric can inform
students that these connections are needed. An-
other common occurrence is for students to
express their agreement with one another with-
out providing rationales for their claims. When
instructors emphasize in a grading rubric the
importance of backing up claims with the
course readings or additional resources, stu-
dents will better understand what is expected
and will be more likely to make substantive
responses. The rubric could emphasize the im-
portance of adding to the conversation in mean-
ingful ways by focusing students’ attention on
thinking skills such as analysis, application and
evaluation (Penny & Murphy, 2009). For in-
stance, students could be expected to demon-
strate learning by paraphrasing and citing the
text or outside resources, describing meaningful
examples, and making inferences (Gilbert &
Dabbagh, 2005). Students can also be expected
to highlight important points made by their
peers thereby encouraging more engagement in
the discussion (Eryilmaz et al., 2015). In Table
3we provide an example of a discussion board
rubric specific to a psychology course.
Research has demonstrated that rubrics can
increase student learning. For example, in a
review of more than 20 studies, Panadero and
Jonsson (2013) noted that rubrics facilitated
learning in a number of ways, including reduc-
ing student anxiety, increasing learning via
feedback, and improving self-regulation and
self-efficacy. In one study, students provided
with a rubric for the discussion board reported
having a clearer understanding of what was
Table 3
Sample Grading Rubric for an Asynchronous Discussion Board in a Psychology Course
Criteria Missing Below expectations Average Above average Superior
Content quality of
initial post (60
points)
0 points 1–35 points 36–45 points 46–50 points 51–60 points
Did not participate
in conversation
Contributions were vague,
general and brief; did not add
new ideas to the conversation
General, opinion-based responses
that were not directly
connected to concepts from
the book or other outside
resources
Thoughtful responses with some
general references to
psychological theories and
research from the book and
other outside resources
Thoughtful, comprehensive responses
(answered all parts of the question)
with numerous, specific references to
psychological theories and research
from the book and other outside
resources (APA citations included)
Question to
classmates (10
points)
0 points 1–6 points 7 points 8–9 points 10 points
Did not ask a
question
Asked 1 question that was very
general in nature and did not
encourage further exploration
Asked 2 questions that focused
on opinion without
encouraging students to
explore the literature
Asked at least 2 questions that
required classmates to further
explore the content
Asked at least 2 Socratic questions that
referenced readings and required
classmates to more deeply explore the
content
Two follow-up
posts (15
points each)
0 points 1–9 points 10–11 points 12 points 13–15 points
Did not respond to
a question or
make an
additional
contribution
Provided a very general response
that did not add value to the
conversation
Responded to question posed by
adding general ideas but
without making references to
textbook concepts
Responded to question posed,
making general references to
textbook concepts and
outside research
Response added value by making a new
point, or adding a different
perspective; made several references
to the text and other outside resources
using APA style
277ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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expected of them, asked fewer questions, made
higher-level contributions, and were more sat-
isfied with the course (Wyss, Freedman, &
Siebert, 2014). In another study, Gilbert and
Dabbagh (2005) found that students in a course
where a rubric was provided, as compared with
students who were not provided with a rubric,
posted more frequently and were more likely to
engage in cognitively complex processes such
as making inferences. In this study, the rubric
addressed expectations for the responses to the
question prompts as well as to classmates, and
how to demonstrate an understanding of the
assigned readings. In addition, students were
provided with tips on how to successfully par-
ticipate and information about the frequency
and timing of contributions to the discussion.
Setting the Structure for the Discussion
In unstructured online discussions, students
may post many responses without actually
learning anything substantive (Yang, 2008).
Creating a virtual structure that facilitates qual-
ity discussions and a sense of community is
important to help students feel comfortable
enough to participate in the discussion as well
as meet or exceed expectations. It is helpful for
instructors to communicate the workflow and
due dates for each conversation. Setting dead-
lines for initial and follow-up responses can
help prevent students from posting their an-
swers close to the deadline without the oppor-
tunity to benefit from the dynamic discussion
(Black, 2005). Creating multiple due dates also
helps students see how discussions are different
from assignments. Instructors can require stu-
dents to make an initial contribution early in the
week and then a follow-up interaction later in
the week. Follow-up interactions can include
asking a question, responding to a question
posed, and providing additional content or ex-
amples (Jin & Jeong, 2013;Yang, 2008).
Another consideration is whether to enable
students in the course to see the responses of
others prior to posting their own response.
Some instructors want students to make a con-
tribution to the conversation without being in-
fluenced by what others post. However, there is
some research that suggests this may not be the
best approach. Jacobi (2017) surveyed students
in her course about factors they found most
effective in the structure of the discussion. Stu-
dents self-reported that they found it beneficial
to read the postings of others prior to posting
their own responses, noting that it helped with
comprehension and fostered deeper thinking.
Allowing students to see the posts of others also
fosters more of a conversation.
Jeong (2004) recommends that structure can
also be achieved by asking students to label
their messages. This can make it easier to fol-
low the flow of the conversation. He also ad-
vises instructors to create separate discussion
boards for questions related to practical matters
(e.g., exam requirements), socialization, and
ice-breakers. Creating a space for socialization
can help ensure that the discussion board tar-
geting course content is more focused on learn-
ing. For example, instructors can create a thread
for students to introduce themselves to one an-
other and encourage them to address one an-
other by name (Lam, 2004). They can also
create separate spaces for social conversations
and a question and answer forum where stu-
dents can ask questions about the material (Ar-
end, 2009). Creating spaces for socialization in
the online discussion board can help foster a
sense of community (Rovai, 2007), and address
the challenge of students feeling isolated in the
online environment.
Gao (2011) argues that threaded discussions
are too linear and can sometimes be difficult to
follow. Instead, she utilized a discussion map
using Mindomo: an online concept map web-
site. In this system rather than posting discus-
sion questions in threads, the instructor posts a
discussion question at the center of a discussion
bubble. Students are then invited to respond to
the main question or to other posts by adding
subbubbles. They can read the posts by clicking
on a note icon. The main difference between
this approach and a threaded discussion is that
students can visually see the structure of the
entire discussion which looks like a concept
map. Gao (2011) found that students were more
likely to make connections between posts and to
sustain the conversation for longer in the dis-
cussion map condition compared with the tra-
ditional threaded discussion. This was indicated
by a greater number of posts per thread in the
discussion map condition compared with the
threaded discussion.
Another useful approach for encouraging
participation and creating structure is to divide
the class into smaller discussion groups rather
278 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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than holding one large discussion. Researchers
have recommended that the optimal size for
small group discussions should be about five
participants. For example, Akcaoglu and Lee
(2016) found that students felt more connected
to their peers and reported experiencing a more
positive learning environment in discussions
with four to five students compared with whole
class discussions. Qiu, Hewitt, and Brett (2014)
found that the quality of students’ posts in-
creased when they were placed in smaller
groups of four to six students compared with
larger groups of up to 22 students. Discussion
posts in large classes tend to be more frag-
mented and hard to follow (Kim, 2013). In
larger class discussions it is also more difficult
for students to contribute new ideas to the con-
versation as the likelihood of others posting
similar ideas increases with group size (Qiu et
al., 2014). Smaller discussion groups are more
likely to foster social connections between stu-
dents and increase their level of comfort (Rovai,
2002).
Creating Effective Question Prompts
According to many educators, the type of
question prompts instructors use directly relates
to the quality of students’ responses (Bradley et
al., 2008;Howell et al., 2017), and this view is
shared by students (Jacobi, 2017). In fact, in-
structors’ use of lower-level questions can dis-
courage student participation while higher-level
questions can lead to high levels of cognitive
presence (Howell, Akapnudo, Chen, Sutherlin,
& James, 2014).
Question prompts that target Bloom’s (1956)
highest levels of critical thinking (analysis, syn-
thesis and evaluation) tend to generate higher
level responses than questions that target lower
levels of critical thinking (memorization, com-
prehension application; Bradley et al., 2008;
Ertmer et al., 2011). In addition, divergent ques-
tions are better than convergent questions at
generating higher level responses (Howell et al.,
2017). Divergent questions are open ended
questions for which many responses are possi-
ble (see examples in Table 4). In contrast, con-
vergent questions are questions for which only a
limited number of responses are possible (An-
drews, 1980). An example of a convergent
question relevant to psychology would be
“What is the difference between the availability
heuristic and the representativeness heuristic?”
because after the first couple of students answer
the question there isn’t much room for further
contribution. Good question prompts tend to
generate a unique response from all participants
in the discussion (Dennen, 2005).
Recently, Howell et al. (2017) found that
three types of divergent questions, “play-
ground,” “brainstorm,” and “focal,” were most
effective at stimulating knowledge construction
which was coded using the Interaction Analysis
Model (Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson,
1997). According to Andrews’ (1980) work, the
playground prompt requires students to inter-
pret or analyze a specific aspect of the course
material. The brainstorm prompt requires stu-
dents to generate a number of viewpoints or
solutions to an issue, and the focal prompt re-
quired students to defend a position related to a
complex situation. Howell and colleagues
(2017) found that these questions were much
more successful at encouraging higher level
thinking compared with convergent prompts.
Similar results were obtained by Ertmer et al.
(2011), who found that playground, brainstorm,
and focal questions generated a greater percent-
age of answers that aligned with higher levels of
Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy. Bradley et al.
(2008) also found evidence that the brainstorm
and playground questions were successful at
stimulating critical thinking skills as measured
by Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy. Specifically, they
found two versions of the playground question:
“direct link” (a playground question referring
students to a quote from an article) and “course
link” (a playground question where students are
asked to integrate course material with read-
ings), to be effective.
Thus, discussions work best when divergent
questions that target high-level cognitive skills
are used. This is true across course levels and
student populations. Bradley et al. (2008) found
that question type was linked to critical thinking
for undergraduate students taking a 200-level
course at a public university and Howell et al.
(2017) found this to be the case with graduate
students at a private university. Instructors can
self-assess the effectiveness of a question
prompt by asking themselves a series of ques-
tions about the prompt (Harrington & Aloni,
2013a). This self-assessment tool as well as
examples of effective question prompts relevant
to psychology courses can be found in Table 4.
279ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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Table 4
Examples of Successful Question Prompts for Online Discussions in Psychology Courses
Question type Explanation Example
Effective divergent questions
(recommended)
Open ended questions for
which many responses
are possible
Brainstorm Asks students to generate
a number of viewpoints
or solutions to an issue
Part I: After reading the attached article on memory, what do you think the next study
should address to further advance the field? Provide a research question and brief
overview of how you would conduct the study.
Part II: Ask at least 2 Socratic questions of your classmates about the studies they have
proposed. The questions should help them think more deeply about their proposed
research study and strengthen it.
Part III: Post revisions to your study proposal based on the feedback provided.
Example applies to Introductory Psychology, Research Methods and Cognitive
Psychology courses
Focal question Asks students to defend a
position related to a
complex situation
Debate – Does true altruism exist?
Part I: Altruism is helping purely out of a desire to benefit another even if it is at a cost to
the self. Does true altruism exist? Or do people only help when they receive a benefit in
return? Explain your position using the theories and studies described in the textbook or
other outside scholarly resources to back up your claims. Use GREEN font to argue that
true altruism exists. Use RED font to argue that true altruism does not exist.
Part II: Ask at least 2 Socratic questions of your classmates. The questions should require
them to more deeply explore their position and consider alternative options.
Part III: Respond to at least 2 questions posed by your classmates. Be sure to reference
the text and other outside sources.
Example applies to Introductory Psychology and Social Psychology courses
Playground Requires the interpretation
or analysis of a specific
aspect of course
material
Part I: Review the attached research studies on love. What finding was most interesting to
you? Why? Discuss how the research finding you selected connects to concepts from
the textbook.
Part II: Ask at least 2 Socratic questions of your classmates to help them further explore
the research and theory related to love.
Part III: Respond to at least 2 questions posed by your classmates. Reference at least 2
additional resources outside of the text in your responses.
Example applies to Introductory Psychology and Social Psychology courses
(table continues)
280 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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Question prompts can also incorporate a va-
riety of tools such as videos (Clark, Strudler, &
Grove, 2015) and word clouds (DeNoyelles &
Reyes-Foster, 2015). These question ap-
proaches can address the challenge of students
feeling isolated in online discussions as it can
enhance social and teacher presence (Clark et
al., 2015). In an interesting quasi-experimental
study conducted by DeNoyelles and Reyes-
Foster (2015), students who were provided a
word cloud as part of the discussion prompt
were more engaged in the conversation and
utilized higher level thinking skills as opposed
to students who received a traditional discus-
sion prompt. Evidence for the use of videos
comes from a research study conducted by
Clark et al. (2015) where undergraduate stu-
dents were randomly assigned to a text-based
online discussion or a video-enhanced online
discussion. In the video-enhanced condition,
students created video posts based on the as-
signed discussion topic. Results indicated that
social and teaching presence were higher in the
video-enhanced version as compared with the
text-based version. For example, students com-
mented that the videos “made you feel like
you’re in class instead of just being online” (p.
58). Fernandez, Simo, Castillo, and Sallan
(2014) also found that students reported that
video responses in online discussions were
helpful, especially when practical examples
were shared. However, they noted that students
preferred having access to both video and text
explanations.
In addition to an effective question prompt,
instructors can utilize creative approaches for
sustaining the conversation such as role-playing
and debates. Hou (2012) used a role-playing
approach where students were assigned the role
of different employees and had to address the
problem-based scenario from that employee’s
perspective. Results indicated that the conver-
sation quality was higher for students in this
role-playing condition, as compared with stu-
dents who were asked to respond to a problem-
based scenario without role assignments. More
specifically, different perspectives and more di-
verse responses were found in the role-playing
condition. Kanuka, Rourke, and Laflamme
(2007) found that WebQuests (i.e., activities in
which students search for resources on the In-
ternet), and debates led to the highest levels of
participation and cognitive presence. Both of
Table 4 (continued)
Question type Explanation Example
Question prompt self-
assessment
Questions to ask yourself
before you post the
discussion prompt
• How likely is it for this question to promote critical thinking skills?
• What level of Bloom’s taxonomy does this question address?
• Is there more than one answer to the question?
• Do students have the background knowledge needed to answer this question?
• Can the question lead to integration of many theories/concepts?
• Will students need to explore the text and/or outside resources to answer the question?
• Will this question invite the sharing of different perspectives?
• Is there room for further contribution if the first student to respond thoroughly answers
the question?
• Will students understand the expectations for this discussion?
Note. Sample question prompts are based on the work of Andrews (1980). Question prompt self-assessment (Harrington & Aloni, 2013a).
281ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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these approaches were highly structured with
roles and responsibilities and required students
to challenge one another. Jin and Jeong (2013)
conducted structured debates that required stu-
dents to support or refute points by either argu-
ing, providing evidence/examples, explaining,
or critiquing arguments made by others. They
found that students’ levels of critical thinking as
measured by Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy was
highest when they argued or critiqued a point
made by classmates and lowest when they sim-
ply provided evidence for a position made by
others. They explain that arguing or critiquing
an argument required students to clarify and
justify their claims which led to higher level
thinking skills than providing evidence for an
argument.
Overall, the aforementioned studies sug-
gest that the type of questions the instructor
asks can directly influence the levels of stu-
dents’ thinking and writing. Yet, in spite of
this trend, Ertmer et al. (2011) found that
even when instructors asked high-level ques-
tions, the answers provided by students did
not always meet expectations. This finding
suggests that modifying question prompts is
an important first step in fostering critical
thinking but students require continuous
coaching through the process. In the next
section we present techniques that the instruc-
tor can use throughout the discussion to ele-
vate the level of students’ responses.
Techniques for Facilitating the Discussion
Recent studies have shown that one of the
most important factors for student engagement
in the discussion is an engaging instructor
(Goode et al., 2018). According to Mandernach
et al. (2009), “An online instructor fulfills a
number of roles within the threaded discussion:
questioning, listening, responding, encouraging,
challenging, reflecting, and summarizing” (p.
58). Thus, the instructor plays a critical role
throughout the discussion.
Several studies have shown that a moderate
amount of involvement by the instructor is bet-
ter for fostering critical thinking skills in stu-
dents than overinvolvement or underinvolve-
ment (Arend, 2009;Dennen, 2005;Morris, Xu,
& Finnegan, 2005). Overinvolvement by the
instructor can decrease peer dialogue between
students and can cause students to look for
confirmation from the instructor rather than de-
velop their thinking on their own. Underin-
volvement by the instructor can lead students to
believe that the instructor is not reading their
responses which can negatively affect their mo-
tivation (Dennen, 2005). In one study con-
ducted by Arend (2009), higher levels of critical
thinking were noted in sections of courses
where the instructor made periodic comments
(responding to every 2–10 students), whereas
lower levels of critical thinking were found in
courses where the instructor responded to al-
most every comment. Similarly, An, Shin, and
Lim (2009) found that student contributions
were significantly higher when the instructor
did not respond to every post but instead pro-
vided minimal input. These findings are consis-
tent with Morris et al.’s (2005) finding that
instructors who posted a moderate number of
messages throughout the semester (between 125
and 265 posts) generated more responses from
students, compared with instructors who were
underinvolved (posted fewer than 75 messages)
or overinvolved (posting more than 450 mes-
sages).
Rather than respond to each student’s post,
the instructor should focus on providing mean-
ingful contributions to the discussion that move
the conversation forward. In one study, Cran-
ney, Wallace, Alexander, and Alfano (2011)
found that the amount of time the instructor
spent in the course was a greater predictor of
student grades than the number of contributions
the instructor made. This finding suggests that
quality matters more than quantity. Arend
(2009) found that higher levels of critical
thinking were obtained in courses where the
instructor responded with very specific ques-
tions and pushed students further in their
thinking while remaining impartial. In con-
trast, lower levels of critical thinking were
found in courses where the instructor ex-
pressed their agreement or disagreements
with comments without pushing students fur-
ther. Even short statements made by the in-
structor such as “Good point, I agree” could
signal to students the end of a conversation.
The instructor can regulate the conversation
by pointing out themes, highlighting accurate
and important posts, correcting inaccuracies
and providing a meaningful summary of the
conversation (Wang, Chen, & Liang, 2011).
282 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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One helpful technique for engaging students
in the discussion is to assign students to discus-
sion roles. For example, Olesova, Slavin, and
Lim (2016) assigned students to the following
roles: starter,skeptic,orwrapper. The starter’s
role was to post an initial response to stimulate
discussion, the wrapper summarized key points
made in the discussion, and the skeptic’s job
was to challenge points brought up by students
in the discussion. In this study, 139 students
were randomly assigned to online discussion
groups and roles. Results indicated that students
with roles had higher levels of cognitive pres-
ence when compared with their classmates
without roles. In another study, Wise, Sagha-
fian, and Padmanabhan (2012) found that the
roles that were viewed as particularly helpful by
students were the starter,wrapper, and devil’s
advocate, who had to identify a different per-
spective or approach and defend that position.
De Wever, Van Keer, Schellens, and Valcke
(2009) found that students displayed higher lev-
els of knowledge construction when the roles
were introduced in the beginning of the term
and then faded out compared with when the
roles were introduced later in the term. Thus,
roles are particularly helpful for engaging stu-
dents in the discussion at the start of a term, but
can be faded out when students get acclimated
to the discussion board.
Aloni (2016) utilized some of the roles de-
scribed by Wise et al. (2012) as well as de-
signed a series of discussion roles specifically
for upper level courses in psychology: research
reporter,method evaluator, and hypothesis gen-
erator. The research reporter was expected to
locate a relevant journal article using the Psy-
cINFO search engine and summarize the article
to the class at a point when it was relevant to the
discussion. The method evaluator was respon-
sible for critically analyzing the method of one
of the studies described in assigned journal ar-
ticles by identifying flaws in the method or
alternative ways in which the constructs could
have been measured. Students were also en-
couraged to locate the measure when possible
and bring it to class so that their peers could
better understand the methodology by complet-
ing the questionnaire. The role of Hypothesis
Generator entailed developing one to two fol-
low-up hypotheses to the studies described in
the readings of the day and presenting them to
the class. Students in her Advanced Personali-
ty–Social Psychology course self-reported that
these roles were effective for developing their
critical thinking skills. Although these roles
were implemented in an in-person course, the
roles can easily be implemented in online dis-
cussion boards.
Another very powerful technique for involv-
ing more students in the discussion and stimu-
lating their critical thinking skills is the use of
Socratic questioning (MacKnight, 2000;Paul,
1995;Strang, 2011). This technique dates back
to the ancient philosophers and involves teach-
ing by asking a series of structured thought-
provoking questions (Plato, trans. 1997). This
technique has evolved into a teaching tool for
generating meaningful discussions and facilitat-
ing critical thinking (Yang, 2008). One key
benefit of Socratic questions is that it promotes
conceptual learning rather than memorization of
material (Strang, 2011). It also stimulates stu-
dents’ curiosity regarding the meaning of their
statements and helps clarify their thinking. In
addition, this approach helps students make
judgments about their reasoning and better un-
derstand the implications and consequences of
their claims. Finally, using Socratic questions
can help students become self-correcting of any
errors in their thinking rather than relying on the
instructor to correct them (Paul & Elder, 2016;
Toledo, 2006;Yang, 2008).
Socratic questions can be either driven en-
tirely by the instructor (Strang, 2011), or the
instructor can teach students to ask these ques-
tions of themselves and of each other (King,
1995;Toledo, 2006;Yang, Newby, & Bill,
2005). One of the primary benefits of shifting
the responsibility for the discussion to the stu-
dents is that students can strengthen their ability
to think autonomously and be less dependent on
the instructor (King, 1995). Emphasizing the
importance of student-to-student interactions is
also more likely to foster a sense of community
in the classroom, which is important for learn-
ing (Rovai, 2007). Furthermore, questions gen-
erated by students are more likely to be person-
ally meaningful to them which will help
students retain the information (King, 1995).
The process of asking questions is likely to
lead students to discover differences in their
opinions. Reconciling these differences in opin-
ion will further foster students’ critical thinking
skills and increase their understanding of the
material (King, 1995). In fact, Chen and Chiu
283ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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(2008) showed that disagreements in online dis-
cussion boards elicited more responses than
agreements. Thus, by teaching students to chal-
lenge one another with Socratic questions, the
instructor is likely to increase their engagement
with the material.
Scholars using Socratic questioning have di-
vided the questions into various categories
based on their learning purpose (Harrington &
Aloni, 2013b;King, 1995;Paul, 1995;Paul &
Elder, 2016;Strang, 2011). For example, some
questions can focus on asking students to clarify
their answers (e.g., “what do you mean by
____?”), whereas other questions can ask stu-
dents to compare their answer to another stu-
dent’s response (e.g., “how is this response sim-
ilar or different from ____?”).
The Socratic questions can easily be applied
to any psychology course. For example, in a
Research Methods course in psychology the
professor can ask questions such as “What are
the potential consequences of testing X in this
manner?,” “What assumptions are you making
when you measure X in this manner?,” or “In
what ways are your experimental and control
conditions similar and different?” as a way of
encouraging students to think more critically
about their study designs. The professor can
encourage students to ask Socratic questions of
each other to help their peers improve the de-
sign of their studies. King (1995) recommends
providing students with examples of generic
questions which they can apply to the content
they are learning. Examples of Socratic ques-
tions that have been commonly used by others
are summarized in Table 5. The instructor can
include a table such as this in the syllabus and
encourage students to utilize Socratic questions
in their peer responses. The instructor can also
incorporate Socratic questions in the question
prompts (see examples Table 4) and include
them in the grading rubric as a standard for
peer responses (see sample grading rubric in
Table 3).
Studies that manipulated the use of Socratic
questioning and then measured students’ levels
of critical thinking have found strong evidence
for their effectiveness (Strang, 2011;Yang et
al., 2005;Yang, 2008). In one study, Strang
(2011) manipulated the use of Socratic ques-
tions in four sections of an MBA online course,
and then measured effects on performance. In
both conditions, the instructor first raised a dis-
cussion question. Students in the Socratic ques-
tioning condition replied to a series of Socratic
questions. Students in the control conditions
Table 5
Examples of Generic Socratic Questions Organized by Learning Purpose
Learning purpose Examples of Socratic questions
Clarification What do you mean by....?
Can you give an example?
Probing purpose What is the purpose of?
What was your purpose when you said?
Probing assumptions What are the assumptions behind these statements?
Is this always the case?
Compare–contrast Can you compare X with Y?
How are X and Y similar?
Exploring additional evidence What additional evidence can you find to support or refute this idea?
How does this connect to the concepts we’ve discussed previously?
Probing others’ viewpoints What would someone who disagrees say?
Does anyone see this differently?
Probing implications What are potential consequences or implications of this?
Can you provide a real world example of...?
Self-reflective processes Why should this issue matter?
What is the importance of learning about this issue?
Probing concepts What is the main idea here?
What main theories do we need to consider in order to answer this question?
Probing conclusions What conclusions can we make?
On what information are we basing this conclusion?
Note. These questions are described in Harrington and Aloni (2013b),King (1995),Paul (1995),Paul and Elder (2016),
and Strang (2011).
284 ALONI AND HARRINGTON
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were required to reply to two of their peers with
general feedback, and Socratic questions were
not used. Results revealed that students in the
Socratic questioning conditions generated posts
which were significantly higher in quality and
performed better on a final essay than those in
the control conditions.
In two quasi-experiments Yang and col-
leagues (Yang et al., 2005;Yang, 2008) manip-
ulated the use of Socratic questioning in asyn-
chronous discussion boards and subsequently
measured students’ levels of critical thinking.
Critical thinking was measured both quantita-
tively with the Chinese version of the California
Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione, 1990), as
well as qualitatively by coding their responses
in the online discussion board with the Interac-
tion Analysis Model (Gunawardena et al., 1997)
and Newman’s analysis model for analyzing
depth in critical thinking (Newman, Webb, &
Cochrane, 1995). Results indicated that students
evidenced greater critical thinking during ses-
sions when Socratic questions were used (Yang
et al., 2005;Yang, 2008).
Conclusion
Online discussion boards are an effective fo-
rum for fostering critical thinking skills and
integrating writing in psychology courses. In
addition, online discussions enable students to
develop their writing skills by exposing stu-
dents to peer models. Instructors are advised to
clearly convey to students the purpose of the
discussion board and their expectations for re-
sponses. This can be done by factoring the
discussion board into a moderate amount of the
overall course grade and providing students
with a detailed grading rubric. Instructors can
also set a clear structure for the discussion by
including clear deadlines for discussion posts
and peer responses, creating a virtual space for
academics and socialization as well as dividing
the class into small groups to help the discus-
sion remain focused.
Instructors can devise question prompts that
target Bloom’s (1956) analysis, synthesis, and
evaluation categories rather than the knowl-
edge, comprehension, and application catego-
ries. Questions should invite multiple perspec-
tives rather than suggesting that only one
answer is possible. Divergent question prompts
such as “brainstorm,” “focal,” and “play-
ground” are preferable to convergent questions.
Instructors can also utilize creative approaches
for the question prompts such as role-playing,
WebQuests and debates.
Once effective question prompts have been
developed, instructors are advised to carefully
monitor the discussion but refrain from re-
sponding to every student as this can lead to
overinvolvement and discourage student partic-
ipation. Assigning students to various discus-
sion roles as well as using Socratic questions are
two very effective techniques for facilitating the
discussion without dominating it. Discussion
roles are more useful in the beginning of the
semester and can be faded out as students be-
come more accustomed to the discussion. So-
cratic questions can be used by both the instruc-
tor and students to move conversations forward
and increase learning. It is recommended that
the instructor provide students with a sample list
of generic Socratic questions, model their use in
the discussion, and encourage students to ask
them of one another. Instructors can increase
student motivation to use this effective ap-
proach by including the use of Socratic ques-
tions in the grading rubric. Using these strate-
gies to facilitate online discussions is
particularly important in online classes. How-
ever, instructors teaching traditional face-to-
face classes may also want to consider incorpo-
rating online discussions into their courses to
help students develop critical thinking and writ-
ing skills.
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289ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS
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... A review of a wide body of the literature on asynchronous online discussion points to low student participation and engagement as a top challenge, attributed to a variety of factors, such as, student confusion about purpose and expectation, low self-confidence, lack of connection with peers or the instructor, difficulty with the threaded discussion format, and technical issues. Aloni & Harrington [3] present several strategies for making online discussion more effective, for instance, by improving the communication, forum structure, discussion prompts, and facilitation, all of which are teacher-ready recommendations. Some literature focuses on the importance of fostering critical thinking to promote deeper learning [4], [5]. ...
... 2) What are the learners' perceptions of the impact of self-efficacy (personal factor) on their discussion board participation (behavioral factor)? 3) What are the learners' perceptions of the impact of social modeling (environmental factor) on their discussion board participation (behavioral factor)? ...
... Previous literature reveals low self-confidence as a factor impacting learner engagement in online discussions [3]. The leaderboard survey gauged the learners' perceptions of self-efficacy via a single question, a practice consistent with prior study where self-efficacy was assessed [20]. ...
Article
Over half of the college students in the U.S took at least one online course in 2019-2020. It is ever more important to deliver an interactive quality experience to a growing online learning community. Asynchronous discussion forum is a widely used tool to help accomplish that goal and to develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, a foundational practice in education. However, it is often challenging to make online discussion forums a venue for meaningful learning. A review of the literature points to low student participation and engagement as a top challenge. This study applies social cognitive theory to address the issue. In social cognitive view, there are three sets of (triadic) determinants: personal factors, behavior, and environmental events interacting mutually in online discussion forums. The study posits that a leaderboard can trigger personal and environmental influences on learner behavior changes to foster discussion forum participation. A student-facing discussion leaderboard was implemented in a graduate engineering elective at a private research university in the U.S. in Summer and Fall 2021. The findings indicate the leaderboard intervention instigates the interaction between self-efficacy (personal factor) and social modeling (environmental influence) and contributes to the improvement of learner engagement.
... Discussions have been widely used as a method of instruction and learners are engaged to construct their understanding of academic content (Larson, 1995(Larson, , 2000Niemela, 2019). Discussion prompts proposed by teachers can sustain discussions and knowledge construction among learners (Aloni & Harrington, 2018;Lovorn & Holaway, 2015;Richardson et al., 2013;Townsend, 2009). ...
... Thirdly, Bloom's (1956) taxonomy can be integrated into the design of discussion prompts to trigger higher levels of thinking in learners (Aloni & Harrington, 2018;Ertmer et al., 2011;Pennington, 2015;Jarosewich et al., 2010;Schwartz & Szabo, 2011). Pre-service teachers were pushed to have higher-level thinking and to practice reflective teaching because Pennington's (2015) discussion prompts and questions were developed based on Bloom's taxonomy levels of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. ...
... Discussion prompts and rubrics for assessments should be aligned with the objectives (Aloni & Harrington, 2018;Dittrich et al., 2008;Engel, 2020;Mahmoudi & Gronseth, 2019). Engel (2020) interviewed 21 online university instructors. ...
Article
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This study analyzed questionnaire, pre-test, post-test, and online posts to explore influence of discussion prompts on the competence in English instruction of seven student teachers of elementary school EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in a practicum in Taiwan. This study reached the following conclusions. First, student teachers had good perceptions of the discussion prompts, particularly their effects on reflection on and relevance of English instruction. Secondly, student teachers had good perceptions of discussion prompts because of their clarity; however, they were not satisfied with inactive discussions among participants. Finally, participants’ education background and teaching experience affected their perceptions and learning via discussion prompts. A conceptual framework on effective implementations of discussion prompts was suggested.
... For asynchronous remote learning, many MTEs turned to modules and discussion boards to initiate conversations and reflection. While there are benefits to using discussion boards, like flexibility in making contributions and opportunity for deeper exploration of topics (Aloni & Harrington, 2018), there are also challenges, such as low participation (Caspi et al., 2006) and feelings of "digital" anxiety (Abdous, 2019). Possible solutions to these challenges include leveraging online spaces to consider different perspectives, set clear expectations, and increase guided feedback (Bliss & Lawrence, 2009). ...
... The asynchronous nature of the conversation meant PTs posted their responses to peers on their own time. While the flexibility can be beneficial (Aloni & Harrington, 2018), it can also be difficult for MTEs to cultivate and maintain sanctuary and intervene in a timely manner when needed so that the perspectives of PTs of color are considered. As one MTE noted, When teaching online, I need to give up some of the control of the conservation and know that argumentation might take place among the PTs. ...
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Traditionally pre-service teachers are undersupported as they develop culturally sustaining family engagement strategies through teacher preparation programming. As COVID-19 forced teachers, and in turn student teachers, to teach virtually, we explored how this setting affects student teacher access to students’ home lives and families and impacts their view of future family engagement and teaching. We interviewed six elementary preservice teacher candidates who completed a semester of virtual student teaching. The shift to virtual instruction gave student teachers unprecedented access to students’ personal lives and also gave families access to student teachers’ practices. This newly acquired access presented multiple opportunities, challenges, and implications for candidates’ teaching and development. This study highlights the need for teacher preparation programs to leverage student teachers’ experiences to elevate culturally sustaining family engagement practices in their curriculum.
... For asynchronous remote learning, many MTEs turned to modules and discussion boards to initiate conversations and reflection. While there are benefits to using discussion boards, like flexibility in making contributions and opportunity for deeper exploration of topics (Aloni & Harrington, 2018), there are also challenges, such as low participation (Caspi et al., 2006) and feelings of "digital" anxiety (Abdous, 2019). Possible solutions to these challenges include leveraging online spaces to consider different perspectives, set clear expectations, and increase guided feedback (Bliss & Lawrence, 2009). ...
... The asynchronous nature of the conversation meant PTs posted their responses to peers on their own time. While the flexibility can be beneficial (Aloni & Harrington, 2018), it can also be difficult for MTEs to cultivate and maintain sanctuary and intervene in a timely manner when needed so that the perspectives of PTs of color are considered. As one MTE noted, When teaching online, I need to give up some of the control of the conservation and know that argumentation might take place among the PTs. ...
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Adolescent literature has the power to positively impact and support the identity development of all adolescents, regardless of ability, gender, race, cultural, or linguistic background. Yet, we contend that this is only possible through the intentional, purposeful, and cognizant selection of texts that accurately and respectfully portray characters with whom students can relate and connect. To that end, this article explores the sociocultural needs of adolescents, their challenges in today’s society, and the ways that literature can support their adolescent identity development to leverage rather than deter their reading skills.
... Being able to weave or synthesise ideas is enhanced because all contributions are preserved (Salmon, 2000). Writing is useful as both process and product of rigorous critical thinking, argumentation, and reflection (Aloni & Harrington, 2018;Hew, Cheung & Ng, 2010). Both the asynchronicity of time and the written communication format present advantages for thinking, affording thoughtful responses (Guiller, Durndell & Ross, 2008;Salter, Douglas & Kember, 2017). ...
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Most of the scholarship on teaching children’s literature has focused on teaching fiction in university literature courses (Bedford & Albright, 2011; Butler, 2006). While there is a vast literature associated with online teaching dating back more than 20 years (e.g., Palloff & Pratt, 2005), and there is increasing use of online teaching in university contexts (Rapanta et al., 2020), there are very few published descriptions or analyses of the online teaching of children’s literature. In this article we document and discuss the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to be delivered in mid-2021 focusing on picturebooks developed at a university, in partnership with a popular MOOC provider. The development of the MOOC is analysed with respect to supporting the presence of the educators, creating clarity in the delivery of the content, providing spaces for reflection and interaction, and generating human connections in an online environment. These features are linked to the notion of storytelling (Bietti, Tilston & Bangerter, 2019). The contribution of picturebooks to supporting these aspects of effective online teaching is also discussed.
... Widely used in both online and in-person courses, asynchronous discussion boards have been touted as a key pedagogical tool in encouraging students to engage with, and develop, the critical thinking and writing skills required for university level success (Aloni & Harrington, 2018). Within these discussion platforms, students engage with one another and their instructor in text-based environments that ask students to respond to prompts or offer commentary on topics. ...
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Asynchronous discussions are a popular feature in online higher education as they enable instructor-student and student–student interactions at the users’ own time and pace. AI-driven discussion platforms are designed to relieve instructors of automatable tasks, e.g., low-stakes grading and post moderation. Our study investigated the validity of an AI-generated score compared to human-driven methods of evaluating student effort and the impact of instructor interaction on students’ discussion post quality. A series of within-subjects MANOVAs was conducted on 14,599 discussion posts among over 800 students across four classes to measure post ‘curiosity score’ (i.e., an AI-generated metric of post quality) and word count. After checking assumptions, one MANOVA was run for each type of instructor interaction: private coaching, public praising, and public featuring. Instructor coaching appears to impact curiosity scores and word count, with later posts being an average of 40 words longer and scoring an average of 15 points higher than the original post that received instructor coaching. AI-driven tools appear to free up time for more creative human interventions, particularly among instructors teaching high-enrollment classes, where a traditional discussion forum is less scalable.
... Online discussion is a little different from written assignment because it involves less formal writing. Aloni and Harrington (2018) observe that synchronous online discussion boards are effective tool for assessment. Braton (2020) observes that anyone who wants to use online discussion method can find tips for effective implementation in practitioner-friendly publication or more academic treatment. ...
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Proceedings of International Conference on Social and Education Sciences © 2022 Published by the ISTES Organization - www.istes.org ISBN: 978-1-952092-39-8 Editors: Dr. Mack Shelley, Dr. Valarie Akerson, & Dr. Ismail Sahin Conference: International Conference on Social and Education Sciences (IConSES) Dates: October 13-16, 2022 Location: Austin, TX, United States Web: www.iconses.net
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Amidst the paradigm shift to the digitalization of teaching and learning post COVID-19, the conceptualized effectiveness of online interactions as facets of immediate and delayed learning among learners and teachers seems to provide solutions to the absence of face-to-face interaction. This action research study investigated the effects of critical reflection on the enhancement of interactivity among students in online courses after being engaged in different weekly reflective and critical asynchronous discussions on Blackboard. The study used a classroom cyclic action-research approach to enhance students’ critical reflection over a period of three months. Participants were 49 male and female Bahraini undergraduates majoring in English Language and Literature. Findings revealed that engaging students in critical reflective discussions enhanced their interactivity in the discussion boards and lessened communication apprehension. Students’ preferences for teaching and learning methods changed to supporting the use of online critical reflective discussions. The findings support the integration of critical reflective discussions in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learning contexts and suggest useful implications for educators and decision-makers in Bahrain and in the wider region.
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This study examined how graduate students’ sense of belonging reflected their cognitive and affective experiences and their discursive engagement in three classroom discussion environments: face-to-face, and synchronous and asynchronous computer-mediated discussions. Self-report surveys at mid-semester identified higher and lower belongingness students. Mid-semester and end-of-semester ratings allowed exploration of cognitive/affective factors. Online discussion transcripts were analyzed to determine how higher-belonging and lower-belonging students used the pronoun We, with codings ranging from close (immediate) to more distant connections (far generic). Findings were that higher-belonging students reported higher levels of enjoyment, usefulness, and involvement. Lower-belonging students expressed sensitivities to peer judgment. As for their discourse, higher-belonging students posted more We instances than lower-belonging students in both online discussion formats. In synchronous discussions, higher-belonging students used more immediate We pronouns, whereas lower-belonging students used more far generic We. Understanding students’ experiences may aid educators in designing classroom discussion that supports learning and social-emotional well-being.
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Based on a case study of an undergraduate course for a teacher education program at a university in Hong Kong, this chapter examines how technology-enabled case-based learning engages pre-service teachers behaviorally, cognitively, and emotionally and prepares them for teaching in schools. Qualitative data obtained from individual interviews with four pre-service teachers and online discussion threads were analyzed using a content analysis approach. This chapter describes how the use of 360-degree panoramic videos and asynchronous discussion forums supports the development of pre-service teachers’ problem-solving skills in tackling school students’ undesirable classroom behaviors, enhancing their reflective skills, and consolidating their content knowledge in classroom management. This study sheds light on how technology-enabled case-based learning may contribute to teacher education programs and prepare pre-service teachers for effective classroom management.KeywordsCase-based learningLearning engagementOnline learningPre-service teachers360° panoramic video
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The purpose of this study was to identify the effect of scripted roles on students’ level of cognitive presence in asynchronous online threaded discussions. A mixed methods design was used to investigate: (1) what level of cognitive presence is achieved by students’ assigned roles in asynchronous online discussions; (2) differences between students’ cognitive presence when the asynchronous online discussions occur during a 5-week intensive summer courses versus 15-week regular semesters (fall and spring); and (3) the impact of the types of questions on students’ cognitive presence in role-based asynchronous online discussions across three semesters in an online introductory nutrition course. The participants of this study were 129 undergraduate students at a major public University in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The results of this research corresponds to the findings of previous research that scripted roles can be an effective strategy to improve both learning processes and outcomes. In addition, this study didn’t find any differences in students’ level of cognitive presence when they enrolled in 5-week summer courses or 15-week regular semesters in fall and spring. Finally, this study found evidence that the types of questions related to the level of cognitive presence, i.e., higher level questions can lead to higher level of cognitive presence and vice versa.
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This study was conducted to investigate the effect of using online discussion forums (ODFs) on students' learning, particularly on their achievement. In order to achieve this, a quasi-experimental design was implemented during one academic semester at one of the leading universities in Saudi Arabia. The sample of this study involved undergraduate students (N = 138) divided into two groups: the experimental group involved 67 students and the control group involved 71 students. The findings indicate that using ODFs is likely to lead students to gain a better achievement. In addition, statistical analyses reveal significant and positive relationships between student participation in ODFs and their final course mark, but no significant relationships between their participation in ODFs and grade point average. The social interaction and the collaborative nature in ODFs environments as well as the active learning in blended learning courses were likely to be the possible reasons for the increased achievement when students utilise ODFs to enhance traditional learning. However, contextual dimensions need to be given a great deal of attention in order to find satisfactory results.
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Social presence is a difficult to achieve, but an imperative component of online learning. In this study, we investigated the effect of group size on students' perceptions of social presence in two graduate-level online courses, comparing small group versus whole class discussions. Our results indicated that when in small group discussions, students perceived a higher level of social presence in terms of sociability, t(32) = 3.507, p = .001; social space, t(29) = 3.074, p = .005; and group cohesion, t(32) = 3.550, p = .001. We discuss how placing students in small and permanent discussion groups can augment social presence. Designers and educators of online learning can strategically modify group size to promote social presence in asynchronous online discussions.
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Fostering reflective deliberation in the online classroom ensures that students reach a high level of achievement in virtual courses. Student peer exchanges were evaluated on a collaborative web site structured around interactive weekly discussions offered across an online, face-to-face, and upper-and lower-division political science courses. Findings indicate that despite differences in mode and level of instruction, the 87 students were academically reflective in their peer discussions across geographic boundaries. This study concludes that a collaboration with a peer interactive design has an important place in online classes, which is a concern for educators and university administrators when developing and delivering pedagogical content.
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The purpose of this study was to explore the perspectives of students regarding what was effective about the way in which the asynchronous discussions were structured in an upper level online organizational communication course. Surveys from 27 student participants were used, with questions focused upon the structure of discussions in the online course as compared to other online courses and to traditional classrooms. Results indicate structured and relevant discussion prompts, small group placement, visible postings, and required weekly postings as significant factors to student success. The majority of students also found online discussions more effective than live discussions in traditional classrooms. Many of the findings offer support for Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (COI) Model and previous research on effective strategies in structuring online discussions.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate whether asynchronous video posts and synchronous videoconferencing would create higher levels of teaching and social presence within an online course when compared with the university’s current text-based discussion platform. Undergraduate students in an online teacher education course were randomly assigned to either the text-based discussion platform or the video-based discussion platform. A switched replications design was used and halfway through the semester students switched platforms. Analysis of student interviews and surveys administered at the end of the semester indicated self-reported perceptions of social and teaching presence were significantly higher when using the video-enabled discussion site. Implications of the added value of video, both in synchronous and asynchronous contexts, are discussed and recommendations for further study are provided.
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Although the availability of web-based education and the number of totally asynchronous courses have grown exponentially in the last decade, the literature on online instruction offers limited empirical guidance to faculty teaching in this environment. Much of the literature is anecdotal and prescriptive, and much more research needs to be done to situate research in practice settings. This study examines faculty roles in the online environment through the perceptions of faculty teaching online and through the archival analysis of their courses. Data were collected through document analysis of ten online courses and from interviews with thirteen instructors in the humanities and social sciences. Using Berge’s typology of online facilitator roles, this study examined the relationship between roles as perceived and enacted by faculty, identified wide variations in faculty roles and participation between experienced and novice instructors, and explored the relationship between faculty workload and perception of facilitation in the online environment. Directions for future research are suggested.
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Previous research has indicated the disconnect between example-based research focusing on worked examples (WEs) and that focusing on modeling examples. The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the effect of four different types of examples from the two separate lines of research, including standard WEs, erroneous WEs, expert (masterly) modeling examples, and peer (coping) modeling examples, on student performance (knowledge retention, near transfer, and far transfer), cognitive load, and self-efficacy. One hundred and sixteen students participated in the study by undergoing computer-based instruction in one of the four versions differing in how examples were provided. The results showed that, overall, expert modeling examples were most effective in promoting knowledge retention, near transfer, and far transfer, while peer modeling examples were shown to be superior in fostering self-efficacy among the four different types of examples.