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Online College Grades improve with Strategic Online Discussions

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Some online college programs are well known for touting their success as being attributed to online communications between students/students and instructor/student. This claim is often made in the context that there is some college specific strategy for promoting greater online communications by a particular institution. In this article we will discuss some proven methods and strategies for developing online course communications to create an online learning environment.

In a 2009 case study titled “Rochester Institute of Technology: Analyzing Student Success” a team of three researchers revealed that RIT online learning courses reported an overall course completion rate of 94%. These finding are credited to the strategies that RIT has used to promote online discussion as a crucial factor for course completion. An interesting side note to this case study is as follow; “They do report on DFW (Grade D, Grade F, or Withdrawal) as a measure of course failure and hence success. Online Learning reports on course completion rates for our online courses and the metric is based simply on the student’s enrollment status at the end of the course. Students that enrolled and did not withdraw are counted as completed although some of them will have received D and F grades” (Fasse, Humbert, Rappold 2009). In addition to this debatable definition of success in online course completion, RIT also reports a significant student demographic shift as well. “The demographics of our online students have shifted to where almost half our online students are campus-based now” (Fasse, Humbert, Rappold 2009). Throughout this RIT case study we found no itemized replicable examples of online communication strategies. However, considering the year of this study (2009) in comparison to the proven 2014 online learning communication methods, this study was important to distance education.

The single most essential thing to accomplish in online teaching and education is to create an online learning environment so learning can actual take place. This environment can be created through allowing complete openness from students and the instructors. Sure, the instructor is always in charge of the online course, but the students should be given free reign to openly express their likes and dislikes about fellow students and the instructor as well. Of course, online respect and etiquette must be enforced but it’s that fine line that the instructor must establish by being honest and frank in their comments to everyone in the course. This instructor frankness could be initially perceived as being critical of even demanding. The instructor should in-turn asked to be criticized or critiqued in their conveyance of the subject matter. The instructor should almost demand that the students challenge them in order to receive a better grade. The instructor should be willing to place their ego in check to the subordination of creating a fully functional online learning environment. It should be expected that online disagreements, heightened emotional and sometimes harsh words could surface during online courses. These instances should be addressed in an individual case-by-case approach in a framework not to restrict online speech but to promote self-discipline, dignity and respect for all users in the course.

We are now going to explore some general and specific methods, tactics and strategies that you can employ during your online learning experience as an instructor or a student.

1. Provide a policy on expected student participation and a description of your grading criteria. Always include a grade for participation and a MINIMUM number of weekly student contributions to the discussion.

2. Make the activities interesting and relevant to your students’ needs. Give students a reason to become actively involved in a discussion topic by appealing to their life experiences, interests and ambitions.

3. On the first day of Virtual Class, send a short biography sketch describing yourself and interesting things about you that pertain to the course. Require your students to do the same during the first week. It could also be helpful to include a photo (although not necessary). This activity creates a sense of community, gives the instructor the opportunity to have a profile of the students in the class, and helps students find common links among themselves.

4. Student debates, Students to post a position on a topic to which others respond with pro or con supporting arguments, followed by critique of the arguments.

5. Student led-discussions. Each student submits one critical thinking question to the class discussion forum about the reading material for that week and is then responsible for leading the discussion that generates from his/her question.

These are only a few examples that are used at the University of Illinois. Please follow the reference link below for more details and suggestions.


Fasse, Richard; Humbert, Joeann; Rappold, Raychel (2009), Rochester Institute of Technology: Analyzing student success, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(3), 37-48

Online Teaching Strategies, (2014), Retrieved from,