IES University Prep

Meaningful Discussions in Online Classrooms

Course Description

This module focuses on discussion design strategies and facilitation strategies. Strategies are adaptable in non-discussion experiences. It is suitable for teachers offering asynchronous discussions in a discussion thread and teachers wanting to increase engagement in student discussions.

Thoughtful questions, skilled facilitation, and clear expectations are the three critical ingredients for rich and meaningful discussions in online classrooms. For 25 years, VHS Learning has supported teachers by providing open-ended discussion questions and helping teachers understand how online discussion facilitation is different from managing a discussion in a face-to-face setting. When asked in our most recent student survey, over 3300 students gave feedback about their experiences with discussions.

Here are their responses:

84% agreed they learned from their classmates by participating in discussions,

89% agreed that they benefitted from learning about other peoples’ points of view.

80% agreed that discussions helped them understand course concepts more clearly, and

78% agreed that discussions made them feel part of a classroom community.

In this 10-hour course, teachers will learn strategies for creating rich, engaging discussion starters and managing online discussion activities. Teachers will reflect on characteristics of effective facilitation in online classrooms and understand the role of the teacher in online discussions, distinguish between clarifying and probing questions, create complex prompts to promote meaningful discussion activities, outline rubric criteria to assess student performance in facilitated discussions, predict challenges to meaningful online discussions and identify possible solutions, and develop resources that support student-led discussions.

This module is part of a series of professional learning opportunities focused on critical skills online teachers must develop. Teachers can enroll in one module or take the entire series. Courses are designed for middle and high school teachers or teachers teaching grades 7-12.

Learning Outcomes

“At the end of the Facilitation Module, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the characteristics of effective facilitation in the online classroom
  • Explain the role of the teacher in online discussions
  • Distinguish between clarifying and probing questions
  • Create complex prompts to promote meaningful student discussion
  • Determine rubric criteria to assess student performance in facilitated lessons
  • Predict challenges to meaningful online discussions and identify possible solutions
  • Develop resources that support student-led discussions”
Course Commitment

10 hours asynchronous study

Course Facilitator

Stacy Young

Stacy Young is the Associate Dean of Instruction at VHS Learning. She mentors and collaborates with the Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) team members to support VHS Learning teachers in their professional development. Key responsibilities include oversight of professional development courses, traing and supervision of teachers, supervision of the Faculty Advisors, coordination of teaching assignments, and Curriculum and Instruction program development as a member of the C&I Leadership Team. Stacy was formerly the Director of the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network with the Center for Collaborative Education, and she brings fifteen years of classroom expeirence to this role. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Masters of Science in Teaching and Learning from the University of Southern Maine.

Professional Learning Course Registration


Flexible Schedule / Self-paced


10 hours asynchronous study

Total work hours

10 hours



Certificate(s) available




VHS Learning

VHS Learning (VHS, Inc.) is a nonprofit organization providing supplemental online classes and blended learning opportunities to middle and high school students, and professional development to educators. We partner with schools and districts to create programs in their schools and work directly with parents and students that want to enroll in our classes individually.

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