Authentic Online Discussions

Ana-Paula Correia, Cara North, Ceren Korkmaz, Vicki Simmerman & Karen Bruce Wallace

Asynchronous discussion is one of the most prevalent pedagogical strategies used in online education, yet this frequency of use has meant that its implementation has often not been supported by a robust understanding of how it should be designed and moderated to support students’ learning. In particular, the literature has tended to focus on the instructor’s role in moderation and facilitation, while paying less attention to more student-focused strategies that foster meaningful dialogue and engagement on their part. Centering the learner, this study presents an innovative approach for online discussions, examining a case where online students created and facilitated online discussions for a graduate-level course at a Midwestern research university.

Screenshot of the Discussion Page.

The study offers reflections from four graduate students, between the ages of 20-55, who took the course over the past two years, and who have analyzed what they gained from creating and facilitating discussion. These students’ reflections foreground how, by participating in this process, they experienced an authentic sense of connectedness and collaboration, as they had the opportunity to bring their perspectives and priorities to the course, and take responsibility for their own and their classmates’ success.

In sum, the four reflections illustrate why it is important for teachers to design online learning experiences in ways that allow for more authentic collaboration with their students, and offer them the ability to design their own learning. Student-created and student-led discussions employ a powerful pedagogical strategy in that regard. With that said, teachers cannot abrogate their responsibility for student learning. In particular, they must be actively involved throughout the process, supporting students as they decide on facilitation strategies, create their online discussions and activities, and lead their classmates through them.

Moreover, it is crucial to note that using student-created and student-led discussions are not by itself a panacea to create engagement, authenticity, and higher levels of participation in online discussions. Although this study focuses more on student-created and -led discussions as the more innovative practice, it advocates a combination of it and teacher-created and student-led discussion. Sharing leadership and facilitation among teachers and students allows for a deep exploration of the experiential value of collaborative online learning. That is, authentic collaboration and conversation can only take place when teachers and students are involved in all aspects of the course, and when they have the ability not only to make their voice heard in response to a discussion but also to initiate it and shape its direction.

This work has been converted into a manuscript and accepted for publication: