Designing Discussions

Welcome to Authentic Discussions!

After you’ve completed this module, you will be able to:

  • Design an authentic and relevant discussion activity
  • Apply facilitation techniques for discussions
  • Explore discussion tools
  • Assess discussions




Designing Discussions

The first section will explore how to design discussion activities that are engaging, complex, and facilitate higher levels of cognitive presence on Bloom’s taxonomy. We’ll examine a variety of discussion activities including case studies, role-plays, debates, and peer review.

Online discussions are similar to face-to-face discussions in that they are designed to help students build a sense of community so that they can process course content and build new knowledge. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) stated that online discussions provide an “expressive space for learners to process, analyze, and make connections among ideas” (pg. 85). The implementation of a discussion board is an active learning strategy and requires that learners engage with the content through reading, reflection, and each other as part of the learning process.

Discussions and the Community of Inquiry

As you will recall from the Student Engagement module, the connections and structure in an online course are often based upon The Community of Inquiry framework, which identifies the social, cognitive, and teaching factors that shape how people learn in an online setting. Specifically, the framework looks at how learners actively engage with the instructor, other learners, and content in order to construct meaningful learning.

Moore (1989) described three types of interactions that would be necessary to include in online courses:

  • learner-instructor
  • learner-content
  • learner-learner

Discussions provide an excellent opportunity for members of a community to establish each type of presence and interaction in an online course.

Click on the plus signs in the graphic below to review each type of presence and interaction and learn how it might be established and maintained through discussions.



Designing discussions


 According to Garrison & Arbaugh (2007)…

“When a discussion progresses from the identification of an issue (triggering event), to an exchange of ideas or information about the issue (exploration), to the connection of ideas (integration), and finally to an application of the new ideas to other contexts (resolution), it is said that the discussion has reached a high level of cognitive presence.”

You might have experienced an online discussion that failed to achieve much depth. Though facilitation and participation play a key role in the depth of a discussion and the level of cognitive presence it will achieve, thoughtful design is essential.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

One way to achieve a higher level of cognitive presence in online discussions is to align discussion prompts to upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Click on the red plus signs in the graphic below to view question stems aligned to each level of Bloom’s.

Click on the plus signs in the graphic below to view prompts for each level of Bloom’s taxonomy.



increasing cognitive presence in discussions

If you want to achieve higher levels of cognitive presence in discussions, the first step is to develop a strong prompt. Click the Play button to view a video with information about designing an effective discussion prompt.





Types of Discussion Activities

As the video shows, developing an engaging discussion prompt is the first step to an involved discussion. While prompts at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are an excellent way to engage students, developing other discussion activities including case studies, debates, role-plays, and peer review/feedback can also facilitate higher levels of cognitive presence in online discussions.




Explore Samples

Now that you have reviewed the types of discussion activities, please click on the links below to view more information and samples.

Case Study Sample


Role Play

Peer Review Samples





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Promoting Instructional Excellence Copyright © by Cathleen O'Neal; Constance Harris; and Olivia Pollard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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