Types of Questions

Generating a valuable discussion begins with understanding why you are asking the questions. Davis (1993) provides a comprehensive list outlining the different types of questions and their purposes (TeacherStream, 2009):

  • Exploratory: probe facts & basic knowledge
  • Challenge: interrogate assumptions, conclusions or interpretations
  • Relational: ask for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues
  • Diagnostic: probe motives or causes
  • Action: call for a conclusion or action
  • Cause & Effect: ask for causal relationships between ideas, actions or events
  • Extension: expand the discussion
  • Hypothetical: pose a change in the facts or issues
  • Priority: seek to identify the most important issues
  • Summary: elicit synthesis

Knowing what you want your students to be able to do, will help you determine which type of questions to ask. But facilitating a meaningful discussion after the initial question is posed also requires the implementation of thoughtful strategies for success.

Best practices in creating dynamic discussions

The following best practice principles can guide instructor strategies for developing and facilitating meaningful conversations in an online course.

Click each title to learn more about them.

Apply to your course: Resources & Tools 

There are several activities and technologies available to engage students in the learning process – individually or collaboratively, synchronously or asynchronously. 



Example/ Resources

Encourage Participation

Contributing to class discussions will be easy for some students and intimidating for others. 

Students are more likely to participate in discussions when a supportive classroom environment has been established.

  • Use inclusive and varied question types
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Ask students to incorporate ideas and experience from their lives
  • Enable multimedia responses by using Canvas Studio or VoiceThread

Utilize Multimedia Discussion Tools

Allow students to participate in a discussion by using just text, audio and/or video.

  • Canvas Studio
  • VoiceThread
Follow-up with Inactive Students

If a student has been inactive on discussion boards/other class activities, it makes sense to reach out to them directly. There are a variety of reasons someone might not be participating, so reach out sooner rather than later to find out.

  • Use the “message students who” function in Canvas
Use Rubrics for Grading

Rubrics can help you articulate to your students your expectations for their discussion posts. They can also speed up your grading.

  • Use graded Canvas Discussions
  • See an example of a rubric (ACUE, 2020) that can help you articulate your expectations
Review Your Netiquette Guidelines

Before asking students to participate in the first discussion board activity, you may want to take the time to review your netiquette guidelines—as stated in your syllabus. We cannot assume that learners know what appropriate behavior, language, and commentary looks like an online class, as compared to other online social interactions.


ACUE (Association of College and University Educators). (2020). Use Discussion Forum Rubrics

Carnegie Mellon University, Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. (n.d.) Discussions.

Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Teacherstream LLC. (2010). Mastering online discussion board facilitation.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

How to cite this page:

UMass Amherst IDEAS Team. (2024, April). Provide effective feedback on students' learning process. https://www.umass.edu/ideas/facilitating-class-discussions-online