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Designing Dynamic Discussion Question Prompts

We’ve all used them…you know, the yes/no discussion board prompts,  the six-part question, and the obvious answer query.  We vow, at least I do, to revamp these next time.  Unfortunately, next time comes without the extra time to re-conceptualize and implement my vastly improved discussion starters. Thus, my need for the experts: Drs. Orlando, Paul, and Elder.

Black Mortarboard and computer mouse
Image by Alyssa Robison

John Orlando, Ph.D., an experienced online instructor who writes extensively on online teaching, advises that your prompts should have students challenge the material, apply course concepts, and create controversy (catcher.sandiego.edu/items/cee/Supplemental.pdf). Further, he suggests that instructors only grade substantive comments (not “I agree” posts), require students to post their response to the original question early (giving time for post replies), reply to another student’s post, and to allow discussions to move onto relevant tangents.

Richard Paul and Linda Elder in The Art of Socratic Questioning – The Critical Thinking Community provide follow-up questions based upon the Socratic Method to ensure that students responds to the prompt posted and actually think about their response. For example:

  • “I don’t see how what you said bears on the question.  Could you explain what you think the connection is?”
  • “Could you give us more details about that?  Could you specify your allegations more fully?”
  • “How did you reach that conclusion?  Could you explain your reasoning? Is there another possible interpretation?”
  • “What exactly are you taking for granted here? Why are you assuming that?”

Discussion prompts that apply course concepts in combination with Socratic follow-up by the instructor AND by fellow students translates into dynamic discussion boards. We need to find the time!