Let’s begin with the obvious. We’re in the business of building interactive and engaging online discussion platforms. We really do believe the answer to this question is, ultimately, yes. Class discussion, whether conducted face-to-face or virtually, is probably one of the most valuable teaching strategies we have in our toolkit. Students learn better when they’re involved and engaged with the course material, their instructor, and their fellow students.
Still, even in the traditional classroom, class discussion can be hard to manage. Instructors who want to encourage discussion routinely make class participation a required and graded activity. In the online classroom, that approach has had less success, especially when discussions unravel altogether as students rush to post a comment before the deadline. The tsunami of responses does little to move the discussion forward or deepen anyone’s understanding of the material. And, yeah, it can crush an instructor’s will to live.