Facilitating a Discussion

A course is a learning experience that is more than just a teacher sending out knowledge, but consists of a safe but lively community where both interactive social activities and learning are taking place. This is part of the social presence and the cognitive discourse of the course.

In a way, facilitating online discussions can lead to better results than in a face to face classroom. In the classroom students often prefer to remain silent or at least very politically correct during certain sensitive discussions. An online environment can feel safer, in part because students can express themselves from “behind the safety of a screen” and can take more time to think about their answer.

First Considerations

  1. Works for small and big groups.

  2. Make sure that your students know each other. If they have not met in real life, organise an introduction exercise to create familiarity that leads to a safe learning environment

  3. Give a clear structure to your discussion topics or e-tivities.


The main considerations when selecting a tool for your facilitated discussion is (1) the group size and (2)  if there are different time zones involved. If there is flexibility required in both, it’s best to use forums or any other form of asynchronous discussion.

Asynchronous discussions are very much fitting remote teaching and learning situations, as they allow all actors to decide when to actively take part themselves. Brightspace and blackboard both offer forum type functionalities that can be used to organise this. Remember that it is important to address the rules of academic debate to all participants. 

For small group discussions, video calling can be used to emulate real-life discussions. Lots of different discussion methodologies can be used. Be aware that online call moderation needs time to get used to and moderation for larger groups can be practically challenging.

  • Forums - Asynchronous
    Forums are available on Blackboard and Brightspace. This format can be used for both small and large groups. As a teacher can take the editor role by summarizing and weaving discussions to continue and guide the conversation.

  • Chat - Synchronous
    In a chat people can have a synchronous discussion with multiple people. The number of people in this format can best be kept under 30. In this setting, you will need to have at least one moderator.

  • Video conferencing - Synchronous
    This works best in smaller groups. As a teacher you are a host or moderator, giving the floor to people and guiding the discussion.

Considerations and Educational Implementation 

  • Set the stage
    Provide a good example by explaining the rules of the discourse and the expectations of the participants. Also, make sure that moderators are well introduced.

  • Design your conversation starters very clearly. The 5-stage model on online and remote learning (by Gilly Salmon) suggests mentioning:

    • The goal

    • The actual activity

    • An inspiring introduction

    • The time it takes including responding to 2 other students

Relevant links and additional information 

Related Tools

Tools Supported by Leiden University

Kaltura Live Room

Blackboard Forum

Brightspace Forum