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      Consistency Is Key: How to Help Students Stay Engaged in Online Discussions

      In an online or blended classroom, online discussion forums are spaces where students can put learning into context—by asking questions, exploring new ideas, and challenging assumptions. Consistent participation in a class over a sustained period of time can help drive real learning. 

      Since last March, we’ve come a long way to understand how we can support real collaboration and engagement in the online classroom—particularly in discussion forums. Many best practices are gaining wider acceptance as instructors grow more versatile with the tools and techniques available to them. Still, full participation in online discussion forums can be difficult. Getting students to post to forums early and consistently is notoriously difficult. And tracking that participation—especially in high-enrollment courses—is perhaps the single most onerous task that online instructors face. 

      Harmonize has tackled this problem by introducing some new features into our online discussion platform, which integrates seamlessly with Canvas. 

      Assign Multiple Due Dates to a Single Discussion Assignment

      Inconsistent participation has a ripple effect in the online classroom. When students fail to engage regularly, their learning suffers. But classrooms are social constructors, and without their contributions, other students, even those who participate regularly, are working in a vacuum. And, of course, the last-minute rush to post against a deadline creates a grading nightmare for instructors. 

      When we were thinking about solving this issue, we decided to address it both from the student’s perspective and the instructor’s. Late last year, we released Milestone Dates, new functionality that we believe will help students stay more consistently engaged throughout a course. With “Milestone Dates,” instructors now have the ability to apply multiple due dates to a single discussion assignment. (This feature was a top request from the Canvas Community.) Now instructors can set due dates for posts, comments on posts, and replies to comments. For example, an instructor can ask students to make an initial post on Monday, reply to a classmate’s post on Wednesday, and make subsequent comments on either of those posts by Friday. With clear expectations, students engage more consistently and successfully throughout the course, not only improving their own learning but improving how their classmates learn as well. 

      Auto-Grading With Benefits

      Okay, getting students to contribute to their online discussion forums more often is a great idea, but increased participation means increased work for instructors. Or does it? We’re on it. We’ve just released a cool new feature that we think will make life for online instructors a whole lot easier. Auto-Grading automatically calculates all of that participation activity using the instructor’s criteria and assigns preliminary grades. Instructors are free to review those grades and adjust as they see fit—based, for example, on the quality of those responses. But because student participation can be automatically calculated, instructors are freed from that first round of tedious grading, allowing them to spend more time encouraging a vibrant classroom discussion where everyone’s ideas are heard.

      The demand for online learning is likely to continue to grow, and institutions will need better ways to deliver engaging and successful learning experiences to their students. New capabilities in Harmonize help instructors focus more fully on student learning by giving them the tools they need to structure more engaging discussions and assess those discussions more easily. 

      Interested in learning more? Explore our blog, attend our upcoming webinar on Auto-Grading  or explore all of our exciting features at