#ELMagChat Recap: How to cultivate deeper online discussions

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As educators continue to conduct most of their teaching online, the questions about how to cultivate good discussions are adding up. Discussion is one of the key ways that teachers get students engaged in learning — but can you replicate the qualities of an effective face-to-face classroom discussion through a text window or video?

Educational Leadership magazine recently held an #ELMagChat Twitter chat about holding deeper discussions online—and our guests had a lot to say on the topic.

Many who chimed in have had to adapt their classroom discussions to online learning and have found different techniques that helped.

Some have been able to lean on the classroom culture they already developed to help with online chats:

Others have discovered that setting norms to allow students to know what to expect in discussion forums has helped tremendously:

But there are also challenges to not being physically present for a discussion. Non-verbal cues are harder to spot online. And it’s harder to “read” the students to see if they’re engaging or confused with the content:

Chat participants also had a lot of advice for what to avoid when facilitating online discussions with students. While much of this advice could apply to face-to-face discussions as well—make sure all students have a chance to speak, try not to talk too much as the teacher, keep on task as much as possible—these challenges seem magnified in an online setting.

Teachers mentioned that, when giving students a chance to speak, it’s important that as many students get to talk as possible.  This may mean teachers need to be careful not to dominate the discussions themselves:

Mike Anderson, who wrote a feature article in EL’s April issue on Deeper Discussions, was quick to point out that subtle language choices can make all the difference in someone feeling included or excluded:

Finally, some educators warned of being careful about privacy and equity issues. As students are in many cases “tuning in” to school from home, teachers need to respect students’ privacy and desires to not participate:

Above all, educators stressed the need to be generous and kind to each other and to their students, recognizing that teaching during a crisis is by no means easy. As EL author Ann Vilen wrote:

Many other fabulous strategies for great online discussions can be found on Twitter at the hashtag #ELMagChat.


Join us for our next #ELMagChat on May 20, 2020, at 8:00 pm EST for a discussion about “Learning and the Brain,” the theme of our May issue.

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