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Asynchronous, text-based discussion can provide rich learning opportunities, offer greater flexibility to students, and can be simpler to set up. 

Why asynchronous?  

Live, or 'synchronous' learning activities and assessments can disadvantage students when they are based in different locations and time zones. For example, a quiz set for 2pm London time will open in Australia at 1am. 

Asynchronous discussion isn’t just a fallback for when we can’t offer synchronous learning and has its own distinct advantages, including:  

  • More time for students to gather their thoughts, collect evidence, plan their response and reflect on other contributions. This can greatly improve the quality of contribution and discussion; 
  • More accessible to students who find it difficult to speak up, have specific learning differences, such as dyslexia, or for whom English is not their first language 
  • Forums are simple to set up and participate in at your own pace.  

To hear first-hand benefits and experiences of using asynchronous discussion forums, watch the following short video (run time: 6m 41s, courtesy of UNSW, Australia).   

General principles 

Discussion forums should have a clear purpose and build towards an outcome so that students are motivated to participate. To deliver a successful forum activity you should: 

  • Establish clear expectations in terms of frequency of moderation by tutors, required post length, and peer feedback etiquette. 
  • Provide a prompt or trigger to provoke conversation; 
  • Moderate and scaffold discussion to keep things on track, encourage participation, draw out salient points, ask follow up questions and clarify misconceptions; 
  • Provide a summary to allow students to draw conclusions and act as a reference point for later study. 

Avoid grading discussion posts as this may deter students from posting developing ideas or cause them to overly plan and perfect their posts. Insteadconsider having the discussion feed into future assessment. For an example of this see the Critical Review section below. 

Moodle recommendations 

  • Use Advanced Forums; they are similar to regular Moodle forums but allow you to search for author or keywords, and there is a quick summary report so you can gauge participation. 
  • In large cohorts, assign students to Moodle Groups to make the discussion more manageable.  
  • When setting up a Forum:  
    • Add brief but clear instructions to the Description. This is the first thing students see when they open the Forum. 
    • Use Discussion locking to make forums read-only after a set amount of time. This keeps the discussion focused.  
    • Consider setting the Group mode for your Forums to Visible Groups so that students can see, but not post, to the discussion of other groups. This can allow students to see a range of responses and feedback. The alternative is to set Group mode to Separate Groups in which students can't see each other's group discussion. 
    • Release your forum on a specific date by using Restrict access. 
    • Integrate your forum with other Moodle activities; to spark discussion, add a reading using the Reading List activity or a Video. After the discussion, use the Choice activity to poll student's on whether the forum debate changed their view.  

Example approaches 

Asynchronous discussion forums can be used to teach and support a range of assessment tasks. Some examples are given below. These examples can be adapted for a wide variety of academic disciplines and are not intended to be prescriptive. 

 Critical Review

Aim and description

Develop student critical analysis and communication skills. Students write a critique of a text, either written or multimedia, and post it to the discussion forum. They must then comment on each other’s critiques using criteria or guidance set by the tutorThe activity could occur multiple times in a term but should be manageable to the student.  

Suggested assessment 

Discussion forum feedback on clarity of argument, evidence, communication skills, and grammar feeds forward into a summative critical review.  

Actions required by learner 

Write a critical review of a reading, engage with other student's reviews. 

Actions required by tutor(s) 

  • Add text to be reviewed:
  • Create Forum: 
    • Forum type: Standard forum for general use 
    • Moderate forum: encourage students to view other reviews and feedback.  
    • Create Turnitin assignment dropbox for student to submit final summative review. 
 Case Study

Aim and description

Have students apply their knowledge in an authentic scenario. Students are given a scenario and a series of case questions that they must respond to in the discussion forum. Once they have provided their own answers, they must provide constructive feedback on other student posts.  

Suggested assessment

Students are assessed on the quality and quantity of their posts, including proving a complete response to the case or scenario, using relevant evidence, clarity of expression, grammar, making the minimum number of substantial posts, and their ability to contribute rather than dominate the discussion. 

Actions Required by Learner

Respond to case scenario and questions in a substantive and timely manner. Make a constructive response to another student's post.  

Actions Required by Tutor(s)

  • Create Advanced Forum: 
    • Forum Type: select Q and A forum if you want students to answer first before they see other responses or Standard forum for general use if students can answer any question on a first come first served basis. 
    • Set Discussion locking to one or two weeks. 
  • Organise Forum: 
    • Create a topic discussion which includes the spark or question stem, all the questions, and a summary of any instructions for students to follow. Pin it to the top of the forum.
    • Create a topic discussion for each question. This helps break down posts into a thread for each question.
    • Assign students to specific questions by appending their name to the title of the discussion post.
  • Moderate Forum: use structured points to add to discussion, and address any misconceptions. 
  • Post a summary statement at the end of each case providing feedback and summary notes for student to refer back to.
  • Grade posts in Moodle or separately e.g. Excel rubric which is then uploaded to students. 
 Critical Debate

Tim Neumann has kindly provided an example on running a live online debate with 2 groups on MoodleThe example provided below substitutes an asynchronous discussion forum for the live debate and includes a potential setup for when there are more than two debate groups. 

Aim and description

Have students practice their critical thinkingpersuasive writing, group work and communication skills.  Students are divided into groups “For” and “Against” and are assigned to a thesis statement to debate in a discussion forum. 

Suggested assessment

Student groups are assessed on their understanding of the thesis statement, presentation of their argumentand group work. Students are also assigned to one debate to read, and vote pre and post debate.  

Actions Required by Learner

Critically analyse thesis statement from an assigned point of view; develop arguments and anticipate counterargumentsOrganise argument structure and order of speaking. Take turns in groups, posting to the forum opening arguments, followed by speaker arguments, and finally closing arguments.   

Actions Required by Tutor(s)

  • Organise debate groups: 
    • Assign students to debate groups, one for each thesis statement, in which students are allocated to “For” or “Against” 
    • Assign each debate group another debate to view/follow as an audience. 
    • Post an announcement with group information, you might want to summarise group allocations in a table.  
  • Create Debate Groups in Moodle:  
    • Name Groups by Thesis Statement; 
    • Include For and Against students in the one group.  
  • Create Advanced Forum for Practice: 
    • Forum Type:  Standard forum for general use; 
    • Group Mode: Separate Groups; 
  • Create Advanced Forum for the debate:  
    • Description: Include list of groups and thesis statements, and a summary of debate format; 
    • Forum Type:  Standard forum for general use; 
    • Set Discussion locking to one week; 
    • Group Mode: Visible Groups; 
    • Set Restrict Access to Date you want forum to be released. 
  • Prepare Debate Forum: 
    • Create one Topic Discussion for each debate contribution, e.g. Opening Statements, Speaker 1, Speaker 2, Speaker 3, and Closing Statements (select option to copy to all groups). 
  • Create Polls (pre and post debate): 
    • For small number of groups: Create two Choice activities for each debate.  
    • For larger cohorts and multiple groups: Create two Opinio Polls which allow student to specify the debate they are voting on and their vote. Add the poll URLs to Moodle. 
    • Release pre poll. 
    • Release post poll after the debate concludes (either manually or with Restrict Access) 
  • Moderate debate: 
    • Announce the start of the debate(s) and encourage students to complete pre-poll. 
    • Check in periodically to make sure debate(s) are progressing. 
    • Announce the end of the debate(s)encourage students to complete post poll, and to read other group debates. 
    • Announce the debate winners. 
  • Grade Group debate e.g. Excel rubric which is then uploaded to students and/or peer feedback using Opinio. 
 Reflective Discussion

Aim and description: 

Have students share and discuss their experiences with one another to facilitate reflective thinking and peer learning. The experience could be a time on placement, a common experience or a general theme. 

Suggested assessment: 

Although discussion posts are not assessed, they can be used as evidence in a summative reflective blog. 

Actions Required by Learner: 

Write a reflective first-hand account of an experience. Post a reply to at least one other post.  

Actions Required by Tutor(s): 

  • Create Advanced Forum: 
    • Forum Type:  Standard forum for general use 
  • Request a Reflect class blog for students to make summative reflective blog posts.  
  • Moderate Forum:  
    • Encourage participation“What do others think?” “Did anyone have a similar experience?” 
    • Challenge students to reflect: “You’ve mentioned X, why do you think this happened? “How would you approach things differently now? 
  • Post a summary statement at the end of each case providing feedback and summarising emergent themes.
 Role Play

Aim and description: 

Encourage empathetic and critical thinking by having students research and act out given roles. A student's responses must demonstrate their understanding of the role as applied to a scenario provided by the teacher. For example, a discussion of sustainability where students are given the role of conservationists, scientists, politicians, NGOs, stakeholders (see Oliver 2016). Alternatively, roles could be distinguished using a theoretical model or level of analysis, e.g. explain the phenomena of hyperinflation from one of the following perspectives: Post-Keynesian, Monetarist, Macroeconomic, Microeconomic, or Behavioural Economics. 

Suggested assessment: 

Students are assessed on their knowledge of the role as applied in the given scenario, as well as their presentation, communication skills, and group contribution. 

Actions Required by Learner: 

Collaborate with other group members to respond to the scenario and present to the class. Engage with and critique other presentations. Respond within the time allowed to follow up questions. 

Actions Required by Tutor(s): 

  • Create Advanced Forum: 
    • Forum type: Standard forum for general use. 
    • Group mode: Visible groups (so that all students can view). 
    • Create a topic discussion with opening scenario. summary of any instructions for students to follow. Pin it to the top of the forum. 
  • Create Rehearsal Forum for students to discuss their roles, research the scenario, practice order of speaking. 
    • Forum type: Standard forum for general use. 
    • Group mode: Separate groups (so that only the students in the group and moderator can see the rehearsal). 
    • Create a topic discussion with example scenario. 
  • Moderate forum:  
    • Release forum. 
    • Post scenario and invite responses.  
    • Ask follow up questions to the group or individuals e.g. “How would each of you respond to the claim that X? “Michael, what would you consider is the key difference between your explanation and that of Y?” 
    • Facilitate any questions from the audience.  

References: 

Oliver, Simon. (2016). Integrating role-play with case study and carbon footprint monitoring: A transformative approach to enhancing learners’ social behavior for a more sustainable environment. 11. 1323-1335. 10.12973/ijese.2016.346a. 

Further examples

There are a range of research-backed, practical guides and resources online which can assist you to design and use asynchronous discussion effectively.


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