Creating collaborative digital group activities

Asynchronous collaborative digital activities enable you to communicate with your students simultaneously and provides an opportunity for students to work together for group-based learning.

When planning and delivering these activities, you need to consider the strengths and limitations of these interactions to use them inclusively:

Strengths

  • Enables people in multiple time zones to interact with each other.
  • Provides time for students to reflect on and prepare written responses.
  • Students can participate in between other commitments.
  • Links and images can be shared as part of communications.

Limitations

  • Lacks an immediate conversational dynamic.
  • Limits the communication of social and emotional cues.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Consistently structured and clearly worded instructions for discussion activities will help create an inclusive and accessible learning experience. Setting expectations clearly can help minimise uncertainty, aid planning and reduce anxiety amongst staff and students.

The following guidance supports the principles of accessibility and inclusivity in online learning. Additionally, these actions will benefit all students.

Setting up an asynchronous discussion activity

Establishing the expectations of yourself and your students will help you build trust as you set up discussion activities.

Adapt the Discussion Forum Template to meet your needs to scaffold for your discussion activity in a way that helps set expectations and clarity for the task. It is based on a simplified version of Gilly Salmon’s E-tivities Framework.

The template has been simplified for clarity so that it serves as a set of instructions aimed at students as well as a plan for you as their tutor. In this example discussion forum task you can see a simple discussion activity using the framework.

Writing prompts for discussion threads

The Digital Education Service has developed guidance on writing effective discussion prompts.

Supporting asynchronous discussion

Your goal when delivering digital teaching activities should be to foster engagement between students. Consider the role you have in validating student contributions in discussion to help form a community that feels open and valued.

Some practical tips and techniques for facilitating asynchronous discussions include the following:

  • Write conversationally:  Skip formalities such as ‘Hi’ and ‘Dear’ so that you can get to the interesting part of the post. Begin by using phrases such as “I like your perspective…”, “You have made an interesting point…” or “Have you considered…?”.
  • Respond with open-ended questions:  Ask a question that reveals the complexity or mistake.
  • Provide developmental feedback: Explain what is good about a post and why. State where ideas need further development to explain how students can improve their understanding.
  • Reiterate the point being made: Even if a student demonstrates their understanding, echoing the point they have made will reinforce it and highlight this to other students.
  • Connect points of view to encourage dialogue: Instead of providing feedback yourself, you can suggest that students with differing interpretations or similar difficulties work together to learn.
  • Summarise the discussion: Instead of replying to individual posts, read them and write a summary to highlight commonalities, differences and interesting points etc. A summary post can also act as a signpost for the endpoint of the discussion.

Providing feedback using asynchronous discussion

Your students’ participation in discussion activities is just one indicator of engagement during their studies. Remember, behavioural activities do not necessarily indicate deeper cognitive or affective engagement in learning.

The following three steps will help you make sure that completing a discussion activity continues to stimulate engagement:

  1. Provide feedback to your students: Feedback on what students have learned as a group and explore what worked well or not so well. You can also provide guidance on how they can support one another. Communicating what students have learned or have created will form part of further activities that will reinforce the feedback cycle for students.
  2. Ask your students for feedback: Invite feedback on how they feel about their own learning. For example, you could ask for questions they would like you to answer and how they are finding their experience of digitally enhanced learning. Seeking feedback not only helps you gauge their progress and engagement but also enhances it – by listening, you will help build a trusting relationship with your students.
  3. Complete the cycle: Respond to feedback from students using other discussion boards or announcements. You may also wish to discuss their feedback during webinars.

Downloads and links