Discussion Tools

What are discussion tools?

Discussion tools allow for conversation or dialogue between learners through mediums such as text, video, audio, and imagery. Posts are made by individual contributors, which can be viewed and responded to by others..

What is the purpose of discussion tools?

The purpose of discussion tools is to facilitate conversation between learners or between learners and their instructor. Online discussions can be valuable for prompting reflection and articulation of one’s thoughts, for connecting with and responding to others, and engaging in dialogue.

How to use discussion tools

There are a variety of approaches to using discussion tools for teaching and learning. Overall, these tools are used to structure conversations around specific topics framed by instructors or the learners themselves. Here are a few considerations for incorporating discussion tools into your teaching:

  • Instructors should consider how they will clarify how students they are to engage with online discussions. Chen et al. (2017) suggest the establishing protocols that articulate “a well-defined goal, clear roles, and set rules for interactions, and specific deadlines for posting” (p. 166)
  • Instructors should plan to provide students with clear expectations of what will be required of their active participation in online discussions, i.e. through a rubric (Rovai, 2007)
  • Online discussion tools such as a forum can be a great place for students to connect with one another beyond just the course content. Providing a dedicated forum for social interaction and student-student support such as a “water cooler space” or a “cafe space” can serve to enhance opportunities for community building (Rovai, 2007)
Forum Tool(OWL) VoiceThread Twitter
Functionality 3 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Accessibility 2 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Technical 3 stars 3 stars 1 stars
Mobile 1 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Usage and Account Setup 3 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Social Presence 2 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Instructor Presence 3 stars 3 stars 2 stars
Cognitive Presence 2 stars 3 stars 2 stars

All Tools

Additional Resources 

Rovai, A. P. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 77-88. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.10.001

A synthesis of the theoretical and research literature on practices for effectively facilitating asynchronous online discussions.


Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., Patton, K., & Zydney, J. (2017). Creating a community of inquiry in large-enrollment online courses: An exploratory study on the effect of protocols within online discussions, Online Learning 21(1), 165-188. doi: 10.24059/ olj.v21i1.816

This exploratory research study investigated the implementation of protocols for engaging in online discussions as a strategy to help students communicate more effectively, facilitate their learning process, and improve the quality of their work within online discussions.