Online teachers need to know how to craft engaging online asynchronous content for online courses. While teachers will rapidly adapt their skill set to the new format of online, teachers cannot stay online all day – and we know students definitely will not {Read: Synchronous Teaching 1:1 Input to Return}. Needed are discussion ideas for every online teacher.

Online teachers need discussion ideas

Online teachers need discussion ideas.

Increasing the asynchronous content of a course can supplement and enrich face to face sessions. Consider asynchronous discussions as complementary to live Zoom sessions or other synchronous opportunities. That is why you need discussion ideas.

Discussions are Changing

As we distribute more content online, collect more work online, we can also transition some quality classroom discussions to an online environment. This educational shift between synchronous and asynchronous has features worth studying for their benefits and trade-offs.

Dimensions of Interactions (Bonk & Graham, 2005)

Dimensions of Interactions (Bonk & Graham, 2005)

Discussion posts can engage a wider variety of students than in-person, time-driven discussions. The deep thinker, the shy student, the serial responder can all use a discussion post to further engage with your course content – if you correctly set one up. Consider the following tips and use the resources referenced to add a new depth to your Canvas courses.

Research demonstrates that a positive correlation exists between the amount of time spent by the instructor in class to higher discussion grades earned by students (Cranney et al., 2011). Teachers do not need to correct and/or respond to every post, but can encourage infrequent posters/speakers, ask probing questions, and connect extraneous ideas and/or posters/speakers. It is not the job of the teacher to confirm the right answer – as that stops the conversation.

Craft a Discussion Prompt

Consider different types of discussion and/or discussion topics to engage students. The age and subject greatly influence how you may use the below stems of discussion prompts.
Prompt Stems:

“What are two strategies you would recommend to _____ in order to _________?
In each peer reply, respectfully address strengths and weaknesses of each proposed strategy.”

“State your position about _________. What do you like about _________?
For your first peer response, role-play the part of a concerned stakeholder. What are the challenges you think should be addressed? Should play be a part of a _________?
For your second peer response, respond to the “concerned stakeholder” as a teacher/judge/policeman/etc. would, addressing concerns.”

“…In each peer reply, respectfully address a strength and weakness of the proposed _____. Contribute your own ideas to address any weaknesses and further strengthen peer ideas.”

“…Focus on sharing module-specific references and resources.”

“Students with last names A-M will debate “Yes. All students should learn _____,” and N-Z will debate “No. ____ requirements should not be incorporated.”
Apply logical reasoning skills to defend your position, but also adapt to peer input, as unexpected views can offer an opportunity to rebuild your position.
Respond to peers who take opposing positions by citing sources. Use collegial language and be polite.”

“What would Historian/Scientist/etc. recommend?”

“Summarize various/# types of _____ and their relevance to _________.
Which type of _____ most appeals to you? Why?”

“Discuss intended and possible unintended consequences of…”

{Students post a draft of an assignment/previous submission} “What are the strengths of this {assignment}?
How could your online peer improve this assignment to meet the course requirements?”

“Share at least one firsthand vignette related to_____.
How did that experience….?”

“Submit a picture* {via phone app} of…” *Teacher moderates these posts.

Discussion Board Norms

Consider how you can increase the quality of your discussion board posts. Establishing norms and continuing them throughout all your discussions helps you and your students focus more on the content and less on the process.

Note any similarities in the successful asynchronous discussions in which you have participated. The formatting, the arrangement of the prompts, the consistencies between the formats. Because of the existing similarities, you more easily focus on the prompt. Functionally it is noteworthy that the link at the bottom of both discussions prompts links to a single page for continuity for the learner and ease of use for the author.

Which of these discussion ideas are you willing to try?


Bonk, C. & Graham, C. (2005). The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

HallCo ELearning. (2021, January 26). Increase the Quality of Discussion Posts. eLearning Increase the Quality of Discussion Posts Comments. (Links to an external site.).

Cranney, M., Wallace, L. Alexander, J. L.,  and Alfano, L. (2011). Instructor’s DiscussionForum Effort: Is It Worth It?  (Links to an external site.)MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 7, (3). 337-348.