Faculty Resources

Effective Teaching Practices

Effective Teaching Practices


Learn how to design effective discussion board prompts, facilitate, online discussions to enhance student discourse on your class topics, and assess the discussions.

Writing Great Questions

Writing effective online discussion questions is perhaps the most important factor in developing a robust online discussion. Check out this article in MERLOT's Journal for Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT). We recommend focusing on the section entitled S and T: Style and Type of Question and checking out the appendix of the article for sample discussion questions.

Overview of Facilitating an Online Discussion

The Teaching Effectiveness Program at the University of Oregon has published an excellent introduction to facilitating online discussions. This resource highlights important considerations about the time management for faculty and students, as well as how to model appropriate and well-formed discussion board posts.


Student learning outcomes should be measurable. They key to both in-class and online assessment is understanding how to measure course activities. The following are examples and ideas for how this can be done.

Determine measurable evidence

During the course design process, determine what kinds of measurable evidence the student will provide through the performance of some learning outcome.

One example of online evidence of student learning is: the student will write thoughtful and well-written online discussion board posts. First, the phrase "thoughtful and well-written" would need to be defined in a grading rubric so as to be measurable, for example, by describing such a post as one that:

  1. Makes a clearly articulated claim
  2. Supports that claim with evidence
  3. Engages other discussion board posts in order to situate the post within the class discourse.

Next, much like you would grade students' traditional paper assignments, you would grade these discussion board posts accordingly. This example of online evidence has much in common with traditional evidence of student learning.

Prepping Students

Since online and hybrid learning is relatively new to many students, they must "learn how to learn," in an online or hybrid course. Traditional conventions and rhythms of a course will change in the online and hybrid environment. Therefore, students must be explicitly taught these new conventions from the first week of class.

In addition, students often sign up for these courses with the misconception that the class will require less time than a traditional course. Online and hybrid courses may require more time for student work due to the dynamics of the course and student preparedness. It is important to set expectations and explicitly detail requirements for students from the start.

Below are some suggestions for setting expectations and teaching hybrid course participation:

Calling it out in the syllabus

The first step to setting clear expectations and modeling effective learning strategies is to explain clearly what is required of students in the course syllabus.
Add a section near the beginning of your course syllabus that calls out the fact that the online and hybrid format is different from a traditional course. In this section also call out the common student misconception that the course will take less time.

Hybrid Courses:

For examples of syllabus language and examples of syllabi from actual hybrid courses, take a look at the Create Section in Designing a Hybrid Course.

Online Communications

Since much of a hybrid course's discussion and communication takes place online, students will spend much more time communicating through formal and informal writing than in traditional courses. Students will navigate a range of genres and audiences when writing in their hybrid classes. Often, students are not prepared to jump into this morass of writing conventions.

Model Online Communication

Explicitly describe and model how a student should communicate online, specifying writing conventions and audiences for the various genres, perhaps in an assessment rubric, and using those conventions in your own communication.

Example text from a hybrid course syllabus:

  • When communicating via email with other students or the course instructor, students should give a descriptive subject title for the email, including the course number, such as "BIS300 syllabus question"; they should include a salutation at the beginning of the email, such as "Hi Professor _____" or "Hello John," if the student's name were John; they should fully explain the purpose of the email and give context for any questions, so that the recipient student or instructor can respond to the email appropriately; and, finally, they should sign the email with their name, so that the recipient knows from whom the email was sent.

Similar language should be included in the syllabus for communicating via the course discussion boards. Example text for a course syllabus about discussion board posts:

Think of a discussion board post as a shortened class paper. You should:

  1. Directly respond to the discussion question(s) that the instructor or another student has posed
  2. Have a single, clearly stated claim;
  3. Present evidence for your claim;
  4. Engage class readings and discussion board posts from other students and the instructor that have come before the post you are writing;
  5. Write as succinctly (that is, keep it as short) as possible.