Best Practices for Designing and Assessing Online Discussion Questions

July 30, 2014 - 2:00pm ET - This webinar has passed. Please register for the recording.


Online discussion can provide students with the opportunity to express ideas, think about course content, apply course concepts to real-world situations, interact with classmates and faculty, and reflect on attitudes or values. However, it can be challenging to create discussion questions that engage students in critical thinking and encourage robust interaction. It is additionally challenging to assess different aspects of online discussion and provide students with meaningful qualitative and quantitative feedback. This webinar will provide strategies and tips for meeting these challenges.

Discussion forums are a common component of online classes. However, there are several aspects of online discussion that can be challenging for both faculty and students. Faculty members can find it challenging to create discussion questions that encourage meaningful student interaction. Likewise, it can also be difficult to create discussion questions that help students critically analyze course content. Finally, many faculty members wrestle with assessing students’ discussion work. Online discussion can also be troublesome for students. Student participation in online discussion can be hindered by unclear questions and uncertainty regarding faculty members’ expectations. The challenges can be addressed through thoughtful design, supportive communication, and sound assessment strategies.

This presentation will provide strategies for (1) designing discussion questions that encourage students to critically evaluate course materials and topics; (2) fostering an environment that supports active and meaningful discussion among class members; (3) communicating clear expectations to students regarding online discussion; and (4) creating rubrics to assess discussion participation and provided detailed feedback to the students.


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Dr. Andrea McCourt is the Program Director for Human Resource Development, which is an online academic program at Texas Tech University. Dr. McCourt has been teaching online classes for over ten years. Her work in higher education has also focused on student learning outcomes and assessment. Dr. McCourt earned her PhD in Human Development and Family Studies and her MEd in Higher Education from Texas Tech University. Her BS Elementary Education is from Eastern New Mexico University. Dr. McCourt’s research interests include critical thinking and retention in online classes and the relationship between the media and body image.


Dr. Jillian Yarbrough has been active in higher education for 15 years. Her work has focused on the development and analysis of adult education sessions and corporate training programs. Dr. Yarbrough holds PhD and MS degrees in Educational Human Resource Development and an MBA from Texas A&M University. Her BS in Education is from Texas Christian University. She currently teaches in the Department of University Studies at Texas Tech University and her current research interests include adult education, distance learning, corporate training and employee/goal alignment.




Dr. Marcus Tanner is the Program Director for Integrative Studies, an online area of study, at Texas Tech University. Both his education and life experiences are interdisciplinary. Before working in higher education, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministries and spent 13 years in full-time pastoral ministry. He earned a Master’s degree in Education and an interdisciplinary Doctor of Philosophy degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University. Dr. Tanner is credited with developing the undergraduate program in Integrative Studies at Texas Tech. “I love teaching and working with students of all ages. Learning is not just an academic venture it should be a lifelong goal”. His research interests include the interaction of work and family, work and health concerns, and program assessment.