Strategies and Tips for Successful Online Teaching.

In this six-part series, SAGE author and education expert Dr. Linda Dale Bloomberg shares strategies and tips for successful online teaching. She covers multimodal strategies for synchronous and asynchronous delivery of content, shows how to engage students who may feel isolated or who may be struggling, discusses how to adopt an accessible and equitable instructional approach, and offers a handout that instructors can give to students on the first day of class with tips for student success in the online environment.

Suggestions for holding class discussions

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education focusing on effective classroom discussions:


Jim O’Connor, Ph.D.

Improving Classroom Discussions

Dear Colleagues,

Interested in improving student discussion in your class? Below is some information from Dr. Stephen Brookfield.

Students are most engaged in learning when they’re verbally interacting with course material, the professor, and their classmates, research shows. Yet pulling off a great classroom discussion that involves all students is such a complex and challenging topic that we’ve broken it down into two course modules: one focused on planning effective classroom discussions and another focused on facilitating them.

Fortunately, there are research-based techniques that are known to work. Below are four tips to keep students focused and engaged in meaningful classroom discussions.

1. Start your discussion on the right foot with sentence completion exercises. Using a sentence completion exercise at the start of a discussion session is an excellent way to get students to focus and connect to the topic at hand. First, ask students to complete a thought-provoking sentence related to the discussion topic. Second, have them share their responses with one another, either in small groups (for large classes), or as a whole-class (for smaller classes). Make sure students are jotting down responses that they’d like to hear more about. After all responses have been read, have students begin the discussion by asking about the responses they wanted to hear more about.

Here are a few examples of sentences that you can ask your students to complete:

“What most struck me about the text we read to prepare for the discussion today is…”
“The question that I’d most like to ask the author of the text is…”
“The idea I most take issue with in the text is…”

2. Set clear expectations. “I grade students for participation in class, and I give them a participation rubric, which lists the behavior I’m looking for from them as evidence of good participation. In those behaviors are a lot of questioning items:

“Good participation is when you ask another student to elaborate on something they’ve already said.”
“Good participation is when you ask another student to explain or give an example of something that they’re talking about.”
“Good participation is asking the question that opens up a new area of exploration for us.”

“So I’m trying to train the students as they’re thinking about how they can get their participation marks in this class, trying to train them in the skills of asking different kinds of questions for different purposes.” (From ACUE’s interview with Dr. Brookfield)

3. Encouraging student-to-student interaction is the best way to keep a discussion going. It ensures a lively discussion as opposed to a back-and-forth between you and one or two students. Here are a few prompts that may help guide your responses:

“Sandra has shared an interesting viewpoint on our reading. Who else shares a similar viewpoint?”
“Who would like to play devil’s advocate here? Who sees something we’re all missing?”
“Dave, when you heard Roberto make that comment, what were you thinking?”
If a student asks you a question, you can always respond with, “That’s a good question. What do the rest of you think about that?”
“We haven’t heard much from this side of the room. What would you like to add?”

4. Be a leader in discussions by guiding students appropriately.“Students are not always looking for you to be quiet and to let them take over, which is actually a threatening and challenging prospect for certain students. They want you to model what you’re asking them to do. They want you to give them some directions on how the process should go. They’ll often look for you to bring the discussion back on track if someone is taking it in an irrelevant direction. They’re looking for you to make sure that people don’t dominate. Despite all the ground rules that you have, people will dominate, and it’s your responsibility to say, ‘Well I think we need to to open this up. I’d like to hear what other people think about this.’” (From ACUE’s interview with Dr. Brookfield)

Questions or comments?

Jim O’Connor Ph.D.
Professor and Founding Dean Emeritus of the College of Education and Health Sciences
Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching, Western Division
Interim Co-Director IT, TUC
Touro University California
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592

Classroom Discussions

Dear Colleagues,

It is heartening to know that many of you are integrating classroom discussions into your course in order to enhance more active student learning.

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning’s website is an excellent resource for those of you who want to use more classroom discussions.

Some basic recommendations from this website include:

  • Prepare a structure – Because class discussion can be less controlled, instructors should have clear expectations for themselves and for students about topics to cover. Instructors might develop several key big-picture questions to ask at the beginning of class and have groups answer by the end of class. Part of a solid discussion structure also includes explicit details defining participation and grading.
  • Regulate the discussion – Instructors should feel free to insert themselves into conversation in order to keep conversation on track. Students especially appreciate this tactic when a few students monopolize conversation. After ensuring that groups are functioning well, instructors can invite especially talkative students to continue conversation after class or in office hours.
  • Address inequity in participation – Instructors should be aware when students of particular gender, race, class, or abilities are systematically marginalized in class. Instructors can refer to inclusive class climate for strategies to ensure that all students are enable to participate. To this end, instructors can set ground rules for discussion in the syllabus, or invite students to help formulate class rules.
  • Give quieter students time to answer questions – Instructors can consider strategies for ensuring that students have time to formulate answers, and that quieter students have alternative opportunities to enter discussion. In class, instructors can allocate a few minutes for students to think about their answers to a question, and then have them discuss with a partner (see think-pair-share above). Additionally, instructors can email out a worksheet with key ideas which students should be prepared to define or explain in class, or a list of conceptual terms and ideas for students to chew on before and after class.
  • Model active listening – The behavior of an instructor plays a huge role in the tone of a class. Instructors should regularly show appreciation for student comments, substantively responding to them by fleshing out good ideas and pushing back on flawed arguments. Additionally, instructors can encourage students to build on each other’s ideas.

There are excellent links on Yale’s website including:, which is Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation.

This website has a particularly good overview of the types of questions to ask during discussions.

If we can assist you with implementing discussions in your class, please feel free to contact me to meet with you by appointment.

Questions or comments?

Jim O’Connor