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3 Reasons why Students Don’t Participate in Online Discussions

September 14, 2012

Great post, and certainly the “late night worry” of many online instructors. Debbie is right on about “reticent students.” In addition, I think this can be even more difficult for online students in that perhaps they feel on the spot more frequently than in the on ground lecture. After all, they are in the position to be judged regularly by all their classmates every time they put up a post, how often do classmates read each others’ papers in the traditional classroom, much less comment on each others’ papers?


I often use the sandwich method on the discussion boards with not just reticent students, but all students. A compliment, constructive feedback (preferably with specific pointers on how to improve), and then another compliment — positive reinforcement goes a long way!

Another great technique is to break the ice and to do this I try to be the first person to post to each new discussion thread or topic. In this first post, I also try to reach as many learning styles as possible, in hopes of engaging as many as possible! I do this through using written, audio and even visual material. Here is a short example of an ice-breaker discussion using Pixton and Screencast:


“This is exciting…our first discussion question, and certainly a thought provoking one! I know it is nerve racking to be the first one, so I thought I would get us started. In addition, it can be really nice to not just read what your professors think, but to hear what they think as well. If you click on the link below it will take you to a little mini discussion on constructive feedback. Please feel free to leave comments and questions; it helps get the ball rolling. 😉


Ice Breaker Discussion


Finally, I try to “keep it real” by being approachable and personable with my students, thus laying the ground for a comfortable learning environment in virtual space (I hope). Thanks, Zipora!

Online Learning Insights

‘Why don’t my students participate in online discussion forums?’ I’ve received numerous comments [questions] like this one, about the lack of student participation in online discussion forums from instructors who appear more puzzled than frustrated. Why don’t students contribute even when their involvement is graded?

An important question to address. As we navigate through adapting pedagogy for online teaching and learning, determining the why and how of student interaction is worthy of consideration. In this post I’ll share what I’ve discovered through an analysis of post-course surveys that might explain why students hold back from getting involved in forum discussions. I’ve identified possible reasons for student reticence and strategies that course instructors can implement to overcome each.

In previous posts on this blog I’ve offered several suggestions for encouraging student participation in discussion forums that include:

  1. Providing practice during an orientation period to increase familiarity with the technical aspect of…

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From → Teachers Lounge

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Gen Y Girl

Twentysomething. Annoyed with corporate BS. Obsessed with Gen Y. Not bratty. Just opinionated.


KQED Public Media for Northern CA

Technology with Intention

learning in public with technology and education

Online Learning Insights

A place for learning about online education

Margaret A. Powers

Educator - Director of STEAM Innovation - Consultant

Dreams of Education

Redefining education one dream at a time

Katrina Falkner

Learning and Teaching within the School of Computer Science, University of Adelaide

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