Welcome to the Northern Virginia Community College Website

Accessibility Navigation:

Online Discussion Management

Social Presence:

Students need to know that you’re listening to them and paying attention, even if you only write a quick message, “I hear you. Thanks for the message.” These short responses create your social presence.

Early in the Semester:

Be an active presence in your online discussions, especially early in the semester. The students will then know it is a crucial part of the course.


Read the first couple of posts and respond quickly to help get students on the right track if they didn’t quite understand the assignment or they did not address all the requirements. If you intervene early, they will know what you expect and adjust accordingly. Later, students can read the exchanges and learn accordingly.

Your Role:

Know what role you want to play as an instructor with each forum -– active/directive or unobtrusive/hands-off. Your discipline and the particular assignment will determine your role.

  • Active/Directive:
    Authoritative, but not overly dominant guide; for instructing students on skills and content, for asking questions.
  • Unobtrusive/Hands-Off:
    Friendly and indirect; for students working together, generating ideas, critique and response, peer reviews of projects.
  • Students focusing a conversation on certain unit or topic –- give them broad interesting topics with relevance to students and plenty of room for varied responses.

Your Comments:

When you comment, keep your contributions to students positive, helpful, challenging and dispassionate.

Their Comments:

You may occasionally need to remind students to stay on topic and avoid casual conversation about non course related issues. Delete distracting comments that clutter it up … for long-term forums.


Build incentive points for overall course for online discussion participation -- it’s more than students just coming to class. To attend is to be an active participant. Recommended weight is 15–30% of overall grade + attendance.

Your Example:

Lead by example, use correct grammar and punctuation and write in complete sentences.

How Much?

You don’t have to read every comment, but students need to know that you’re there and paying attention. You don’t have to respond to every comment, unless the assignment calls for it. Summative comments to an entire forum can work well depending on the assignment. Respond to student introductions; this will make them feel part of a community.