Online Teaching & Learning

This guide was created in partnership with The Centre for Teaching and Learning & Library and Learning Services.

Principle 5

Create a Teaching and Learning Community: Use teaching methods and learning strategies that encourage mutual learning, as well as thoughtful, respectful and collaborative engagement and dialogue between all members of the classroom community.

How do I Conduct Effective Discussions?

Watch the following video titled "Conducting Effective Discussions" to find out more about how to moderate and motivate learners to engage in online discussions.

The Community of Inquiry model points to three critical dimensions of presence in the online space, namely (a) cognitive presence, (b) teaching presence, and (c) social presence. In order to cultivate a sense of community and connection, it is essential to activate each of these dimensions when designing and facilitating significant learning experiences online.

Here is an example of an icebreaker activity in the online discussion forum in a Teaching and Learning Foundations course offered at Sheridan. This particular activity requires learners to set up their profiles and then to follow it up with a contribution. Online icebreakers like the one featured below offer learners an opportunity to get to know one another better and to create and establish their own online identities.

Activity #1: Icebreaker

Before you start, please take a moment and create your profile. Add an image of yourself or an image that represents you, and then complete the following tasks:

  • In your post, please share a quote, joke, image, or video about what teaching and learning means to you
  • Reply to one of your colleagues’ posts with a prompt or probe – Your post may be text, audio, image, or video

To learn how to create a profile, watch a short (02:01) video tutorial by Brightspace, read the documentation on the Brightspace Help website, or review the support pages on the Teaching with Technology website. 






"Community and dialogue shouldn’t be an accident or by-product of a course.They should be the course. You can’t just stick people into a room and expect them to talk. The same is true for online space. We must create platforms that both actively facilitate and passively encourage interaction. Then, we work to model constructive interaction. The best online courses have a personality, create genuine relationships, and ask hard intellectual questions."

This is an excerpt from Jesse Stommel's Online Learning: A Manifesto.



Discussion as a Means for Creating Community

*Discussion forums require monitoring, maintenance, and facilitation and this needs to be taken into consideration when designing the online learning experience.


Online discussions help to foster a sense of connection and community in the digital environment. Dialogue holds the potential to provide learners with an opportunity to respond to questions, to defend a particular viewpoint with supporting data, and/or to analyze or critique writings or other work. Further, discussion activities can also provide learners with an opportunity to reflect on their personal learning and if designed and facilitated thoughtfully holds the promise for creating significant learning experiences that allow leaners to purposefully build upon one another's ideas to forge connections and extensions.

Dialogue allows us to relate to the world around us, to other people, and to our own intentions, desires, and feelings. It involves communication with another or others in order to arrive at an understanding of experience. Conversation captured through discussion posts, storytelling, reading, and writing are some of the basic tools for dialogue that can be leveraged and emphasized in online learning.


Discussions can be designed in the following ways: 

  • Synchronous (happening in real time) online discussions are an effective method for learners to apply problem solving and critical thinking skills
  • Asynchronous discussions provide a “running commentary” on learner understanding of content (these can be checked later by the facilitator)


Watch the following video titled "Navigating Brightspace Learning Environment" to learn how to create your profile.