Faculty Evaluation and Coaching Department
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Effective Online Discussion Questions

While online classes usually have discussion questions written into the modules, most instructors prefer— eventually, if not in their first semester—to formulate their own discussion questions. Creating your own questions allows you to shape the conversation in the class to match your particular interests, to address current events, or to consider students’ concerns in greater depth.

Connect with students’ experience and opinions: ask questions that allow them to draw on what they already know. Especially at the beginning of the semester, it’s helpful to give students a chance to discuss issues with which they already have some familiarity.

EXAMPLE: What is your favorite advertising tagline? Post it. Explain why you like it and how it fits into the brand. Why do you think it is memorable? (suggested by Ann O’Phelan)

Ask about students' process—how are they approaching an assignment, what problems are they encountering, what’s working and not working, etc. This gives them a chance to share ideas and strategies with their classmates.

EXAMPLE: What have you liked about the class so far and what have you found inspiring? Have there been difficulties and how have you overcome them? Do you have any tips and suggestions for your fellow classmates? (suggested by Linda Horn)

Ask students to think further about ideas presented in the module content or readings: have them think about the relationships between ideas or the implications of particular concepts. Or ask them to apply what they have learned to a new context and present their ideas to the class.

EXAMPLE (for a visual merchandising class): In each module, I pose a specific problem in a store context and ask how they would solve it. I match the question to the module subject matter. (suggested by Leesa Klotz)

Encourage students to make connections between ideas presented in the modules or readings and some aspect of their knowledge and experience. Help them to understand the relevance of course material in the wider world.

EXAMPLE: In the reading assignment from Art and Abstraction, Nathan Cabot Hale states that the sciences are quantitative and the arts are qualitative. What do you think of Hale's view of art and science? Here are some ideas you might want to bring into the discussion: Do you agree that arts are qualitative while sciences are quantitative? What does that mean? How does Hale divide the role of art and science? What is the role of the individual artist? (suggested by Kathleen Quaife)

EXAMPLE: Clark Terry is one of legendary jazz trumpeters of our times. He was born in 1920 and he played with all the greats. He was also an educator, mentoring the next generation of jazz musicians. He famous advised them to “Imitate, assimilate, and innovate.” What do you think that means in the context of learning web design? (suggested by Martha Breen)


Additional Resources

Class discussions offer a great opportunity to help students think through the broader issues that will affect their professional development as artists and designers. For some prompts that encourage this sort of discussion, see “Discussion Questions to Support Professional Development”.

For some excellent suggestions about using thought-provoking and memorable (or “sticky”) ideas to help you create discussion assignments, download a free copy of “Teaching That Sticks” from the Heath Brothers’ website. (Note: You will need to register in order to access this and other free resources.)

For guidelines, see Discussion Facilitation.

Contributed by Jenny Michael