Why Use Discussions?

Online or In-Person Courses

When instructors hear about using the Discussions tool in TCU Online, they may first think the tool is most useful for instructors teaching classes that are fully online. While, this tool is often a cornerstone of fully online courses, there are many ways to use the Discussions tool in all types of classes. Visit our Types of Discussions page for descriptions and ideas.

Providing students with an online discussion prompt or activity offers students the chance to think about the homework materials, grapple with challenging concepts, reflect about their learning, or make connections across course topics prior to coming to a physical classroom or in place of meeting face-to-face.

computer In online courses, the Discussions tool can be a key avenue for student-student engagement, and, depending on how active a role, the instructor wishes to take, student-faculty engagement. Because discussion prompts and student posts support links, video note content, video embeds, and file uploads, discussion topic prompts and replies can call upon a variety of evidence to support and further complex thinking about course topics. When online courses use high-quality discussion questions and ground these with reference to the discussion rubric and relevant class academic integrity and netiquette policies, online discussions can be a powerful force for learning and engagement.


Discussion prompts can be used to generate interest, encourage students to explore the big questions of the field, or think narrowly about a specific problem or case. Students get to clarify their own thinking as a result of having to articulate it for others and also discover what other classmates thought, helping each student see beyond their own perspective.

The Discussions tool can also be used to help generate conversations, debates, and feedback among peers. Some students enjoy using online discussions because they can compose their thoughts before they post a comment, respond more thoughtfully to discussion topics, and engage in lively debates that are less threatening than in a live classroom environment.

As an instructor, the Discussions tool allows for each student to participate in the discussion. In addition, by using the post-first setting, TCU Online will not show other students’ responses to the topic until a student has posted. This allows for a true whole-class discussion in which each and every student participates fully.

Creating Expectations

For each discussion, instructors should be sure to communicate information to students about the initial post as well as replies to peers. For example, what will count as a substantive reply? Is a citation required in the reply posts? Do students need to end their initial posts or their replies with a question?

In addition to these participation expectations, instructors will want to provide specific information  about post length and due dates.

Some examples of this wording:

  • Students make their initial post (300 words) by Wednesday at 5pm and then return to reply to three peers by Friday (50–100 words each) at 10am. This format could be used for a face-to-face class that meets Friday at 2pm, leaving the instructor time to read through the online discussion and pull intriguing examples to begin discussion in class.
  • Students make their initial post (600 words) by Wednesday at 5pm and then return to reply to four peers by Sunday (150–200 words each) at 10am. This format could be used for an online class in place of having a class time to meet as a whole class.
  • Students make an initial post and then must wait 24 hours to reply to peers. This format can be used in a fully online class or in an in-person class; the 24-hour spacing allows the discussion to unfurl (perhaps while the instructor introduces new content) and drives the students to the platform multiple times over the span of the discussion.
  • Students make their initial post (500 words) by Tuesday at midnight, reply to three peers by Friday at midnight, and then reply to at least three people who replied to them by Sunday at midnight. This format can be used in a fully online or in-person class; the reply-to-people-who-replied-to-you requirement can be more complicated for instructors to track, but it often provides a good driver to keep discussions going and support class norms of engagement and critical thinking.

If you have a discussion rubric, you’ll also want to be sure that your directions remind students of this and drive them to review it before they begin their postings. Likewise, your course should have academic integrity information and netiquette information – it is a best practice to have this information accompany each discussion topic in the course.