Tips for Effective Online Discussions

As we close out 2018 and plan for the new year, I like to reflect back on teaching successes and challenges from the past year that can help me improve my teaching practices in my courses for the next year. Except for a few guest lecture spots, most of my teaching has been online since 2008. During this time I can say that I have become very aware of the definite similarities between face-to-face courses and online courses. The most significant similarity being capacity for making connections between instructor and students – and among students themselves – that can be fostered through class discussions. Of course, that is where the differences – and challenges – reside as well. Fostering those interpersonal connections while advancing learning in an online course takes strategic and significant effort on the part of the instructor – especially in the first few weeks as we get students acclimated to the learning environment and our expectations.

I could go on however, I am going to share the article “10 Tips for Effective Online Discussions” by Edwige Simon, Director of the Graduate Certificate in Language Teaching with Technology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Simon shares her experiences leading and managing discussions in her online courses along with a document that she uses to communicate discussion expectations and grading criteria to students.

Feel free to share your thoughts, reactions, and ideas about Simon’s article and online discussions below. I wish you best of luck as you prepare for your next semester of classes in 2019!

Webinar Recording: Keeping It Together: Coordinating Multi-Section Courses (11/9/2017)

Webinar recording available at:

six plates are spinning on top of six tall wooden rods, as a man in a chef's toque tends to them and a child (also in kitchen costume) signals to stage right

Plates spinning at the circus by bwstock

The struggle is real.  It takes a village to provide quality education to thousands of students, and that effort only becomes more complex as education becomes hybrid and even fully online.  How to ensure that students learn what they need regardless of which section they enrol in (without squelching the opportunity for variety and specialization)?  How to provide an ever-rotating cast of instructors with the training and support they need?  How to gather and manage data and information about how it’s all going and make sure that other departmental stakeholders know about it?  While it rarely leads stories about the impact of the Digital Revolution on universities, this layer of the puzzle is crucial for making sure it all works and that the fancy new tools and opportunities the future is making available help students and do not just become a fog of chaos.

In this webinar, Dr. Melissa Beers and Dr. Kristin Supe discuss their experience coordinating the exemplary Introduction to Psychology course at Ohio State.  Ranging from the philosophical to the logistical, they shared useful insights about things like how recent LMS features simplify creating the dozens of course shells, the importance of training, and the importance of research. Bonus points for the Harry Potter references.  It was a fun time!

Webinar Recording: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ohio State eLearning Toolset (8/31/2017)

View the recording at

You know the old saying, “When all you have’s a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail”?  Back when I started with ODEE (before it was ODEE), that was nearly true of the tools available to instructors at Ohio State: there was Carmen and there was CarmenWiki.  Since then the toolset has grown like the pit crew for a NASCAR team, and there is no longer just a single way to do most things.  To help sort through the options and provide a high-level map of what-all systems are available for free to every instructor at Ohio State, our colleague Valerie Rake stopped by the studios at Mount Hall on August 31, 2017 to present a basic explanation and illustration for each system, as well as details about how to get help getting started.

Technology Empowered Transformative Learning

Thanksgiving turkey illustrationHappy post-Thanksgiving everyone!  If you are like me, you are still recovering from over-eating wonderful food and, of course, a an edge of your seat game on Saturday.  Whew!

Now that I’m back at work, reading through emails and checking Twitter posts, I have come across a post by the director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Dept. of Education, Joseph South.  He discusses what transformative learning is and how technology can be used to empower teachers and students through transformative learning experiences.  Although there is a certain k12 slant to his perspective, much of what he discusses is easily relatable to higher education whether we are talking about face-to-face, hybrid, or online modes of course delivery.  I’d like to share South’s post with you and gather your thoughts on how you have or are thinking of using technology to engphoto of OSU students working together at computer in classage your students in transformative experiences.  Click here to read South’s article. 

Have a great week back at work!


2016 #NDLW Blog Discussion

computer-generated icons of a computer screen, a light bulb, and a check markGreetings and welcome to ODEE DELTA’s blog discussion in honor of National Distance Learning Week! To round out our events for the week, we are hosting a blog-based discussion about what makes distance learning effective (when it is), what online instructors need, and what we ought to expect from the future.

To engage in one (and hopefully all three) of these conversations, please post your thoughts on one or other of these topics and reply to what others have to say:


  • Topic #1: What aspect of distance learning do you think works best?  What would you say to peers to recruit them to try teaching (or learning) online?
  • Topic #2: What kinds of guidance and support have you found most useful for teaching online?  What kinds of guidance and support do you think new online instructors most need?
  • Topic #3: What does the future hold for distance learning?
    • Tools?
    • Pedagogical models?
    • Economic arrangements?
    • Institutional pressures?
    • Student demand?

Thank you for all you do, and we look forward to continuing the adventure with you all.


photo of Marcia Ham

Marcia Ham

photo of henry griffy

Henry Griffy

photograph of Skylar Fought

Skylar Fought

Perspectives from a new online student

""This summer, one of our new student employees with ODEE enrolled in his first online course at The Ohio State University. Having never been an online student, he was not sure exactly what to expect going in to the course.

Ross reflected on the pieces of the online course that made the transition to online easy in certain respects. “Today, online and in-person courses are going to carry a great deal of similarities. In both cases, most of the course content lives online. In my online course, assignments were still found and submitted online, the syllabus was accessed online and most of the course files, help resources and other course components lived online, just like an in-person class. I knew these things weren’t going to be a problem for me.”

Ross had one apprehension going in to the course, though. “What I was unsure about was how the information was going to be delivered. Obviously, most in-person courses have information delivered through live lectures.” Ross wasn’t sure how he would be asked to learn class material in the online course, but was happy to discover that it was pretty similar how Ross had received lecture information in his on-ground classes yet a bit different. His professor had recorded topic-based voice-over PowerPoint presentations to post in the class. “This helped me learn in the best way that I knew how, and if anything, these online lectures were a little better because they could be accessed at any time.”

“If I had one complaint about my online course, it would be the lack of collaboration present in the course. One of the best parts of an in-person course is the ability to easily work with and communicate with classmates.” Ross explained that when they had to work in small groups, they relied on email with each other to collaborate. He would have preferred having a space within the Carmen Canvas course for his group to meet and collaborate such as using the group discussion board feature. “I felt as though there should have been an easier and more effective way to communicate with other students and the professor within the online course itself. For me, this is what really separated the online course from my previous in-person classes.”

Ross reflected on his first online course. “Overall, my first experience with an online course went better than expected. Some of the collaboration and communication abilities were lost online, but it didn’t end up being too much of an issue. With the online course feeling much like an in-person class, there wasn’t too much of an initial adjustment that needed to be made.”

As we read about Ross’s inaugural online learning experience, we can reflect upon our own course designs and how we deliver content and engage with our online students. Are there opportunities for us to set up spaces in our Carmen Canvas course for students to collaborate with each other? How is our lecture content being presented online and are we following best practices for video and PowerPoint presentations? Some of these questions may be opening up unfamiliar territory of study for instructors new to teaching online. For online instructors, ODEE provides on-demand resources along with face-to-face and online trainings throughout each semester. Feel free to peruse these resources and register for the workshops and webinars most important to your needs.

Wednesday Kickstart Week

Today we are talking about learning activities in online courses: the stuff students do that will enable them to demonstrate learning on the assessments, such as reading, watching videos, discussions, and other interactions with each other. We specifically talked about ways that traditional in-person activities compare to online activities. Some activities translate more or less directly, while others require re-thinking and new design. And, as Allen November reminds, elearning tools provide opportunities for students to do things that we did not even know were possible.

For today’s reflection, please write about how you anticipate your traditional teaching transforming in the online classroom:

  • What is an activity that you have found successful and plan to continue more or less unchanged?
  • What is an activity that you anticipate needing to revise substantially? What kinds of changes will need to be made?
  • Is there an activity that you don’t think can be done online or that you are anxious about pulling off successfully?
  • Bonus points: What is something you might try for the first time online? (Maybe something you’ve always wished you could ask your students to do but which was not feasible in an in-person situation?

As always, please feel free to include any additional questions or thoughts.

Monday Kickstart Week

Based on this morning’s activities, share something that you learned that you didn’t know before, and ask a question you didn’t know you had.  Feel free to interact with your peers.  If you know the answers to a colleague’s question, answer it!  If someone’s answers or questions lead you to another question you didn’t know you had, ask it!


Lightboard Lecturing

photo of woman drawing on lightboardThose of you who attended our last Kickstart Week in January had a chance to tour the Denney Hall Digital Union and try out the new lightboard in the video recording studio.  Lecturing with a lightboard is a growing trend that many online faculty love.  Take a look at examples and check out instructor insights from early adopters of lightboard lecturing by clicking here.  If you are interested in trying out the lightboard yourself, you can contact the Denney DU or join us for our May 2016 Kickstart Week, May 16-20, when we will have a hands on tour of the space.  Registration will be open the end of March through the DELTA site at