Alternatives for Online Discussions

Last revised: 10/13/2020 by dtm.


When designing an online course, it is important to encourage students to connect with peers to discuss content and concepts.  According to the Quality Matters Standards for Online and Blended Courses, learning activities must provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning. (QM 5.2).  This article will review some alternatives to traditional text-based asynchronous discussion forums in online courses.

Asynchronous Alternatives

Text-based online discussion forums are great, but faculty may want to consider alternatives to traditional HuskyCT/Blackboard written discussions.  This article reviews a few asynchronous alternatives that can increase student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction:

  • Google Docs: This powerful real-time collaborative document tool allows multiple users to edit a document in real time.  Students can add text directly inside a Google Doc and/or comments in the right hand margin to discuss its contents.
  • Perusall: Perusall is a free “social annotation” tool that helps students engage with course material (PDFs, eTextbooks, websites, YouTube videos, etc.) in class groups. When integrated with HuskyCT, instructors can create reading or viewing assignments in which students create & share their own annotations and respond to each other’s comments & questions. Perusall informs instructors of the concepts that generate the most student questions & discussion, and Perusall assignments can be automatically scored based on instructor-determined engagement parameters. Perusall also reminds students of incomplete assignments, prompting higher rates of completion and preparedness.
  • Piazza: This discussion platform is completely integrated with HuskyCT/Blackboard.  Piazza facilitates wiki-style editing for collaborative student questions and answers until a single high quality answer is achieved.  It also allows for students to post anonymously and boasts a more robust latex editor to make writing code and equations easier than the standard HuskyCT/Blackboard discussion tool. See the “Additional Resources” section below for more details on Piazza.
  • VoiceThread: This audio/video discussion platform allows students to use their voices and webcams to asynchronously discuss course content. Students and/or faculty may place collections of media (like images, videos, documents and presentations) at the center of their conversations. One of the main benefits of using VoiceThread is hearing student voices. (NOTE: VoiceThread is currently only available for Single Instructor Licensing. See the “Additional Resources” section below for more details on VoiceThread)

Synchronous Alternatives

Sometimes getting together to discuss ideas, concepts, and topics in real time is preferred.  This article reviews a few synchronous alternatives:


Additional Resources:


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