Support InteractionElicit ConversationFacilitate group discussions

Group discussions can be used to support interaction either synchronously or asynchronously:

  • Use breakout rooms in Zoom or channels in Microsoft Teams to facilitate synchronous discussions.
  • Use LumiNUS Forums or Posts in Microsoft Teams to facilitate asynchronous discussions.

Preparing for group discussion

When designing group discussion activities, think about:

  • Purpose: What do you plan to achieve with the group discussion activity?
  • Questions: Keep your questions open-ended, where there may be more than one possible answer or opinion, ill-structured problems or issues
  • Alignment: How do the ideas and information to be discussed fit into the module as a whole?
  • Knowledge & skills: What skills, knowledge, or perspectives, do you want your students to gain from the discussions?
  • Preparing students: Demonstrate to students what it means when participating in discussions (e.g. warm up activities in class)

Using group discussions

Group discussion activities can be used to:

  • Encourage peer interaction and team work 
    Divide your students into small groups of 4-6, using the class groups, tutorial groups, project groups or section groups. The small size makes it easier for all students to participate. Such groups can conduct their own in-depth discussion as a part of a class-wide topic or a topic in its entirety. They could then post their response(s) to the discussion forum which is open to the whole class. Assigning students to a specific workgroup for the duration of the course and giving them the opportunity to participate in various roles during the term — coordinator, time manager, and reporter, for instance, would give the students a good learning experience.
  • Achieve social interaction and community building
    Create discussion threads that will allow students get to know each other personally and intellectually, and build a community of learners.

Using breakout rooms in Zoom for synchronous group discussions

Breakout rooms allow you to split your Zoom meeting (live lecture) in up to 50 separate group discussions. You can choose to split students in your live lecture into groups either automatically or manually, and can switch between sessions at any time. It is important to inform the students what do you expect them to do and what will be the roles of each member, so they work more productive as a team. This section provides you a quick overview of setting up and using breakout rooms in Zoom.

Here is what you need to know when using breakout rooms in Zoom:

  • Create breakout rooms to send student participants into small groups. The teacher can decide duration of the breakout discussions: either limited time that can be set (e.g., five minutes to discuss a specific question), or indefinite time with teacher having the control to end group discussions at any time.
  • You can either pre-assign students to breakout rooms before a live lecture or create your groups instantly during the lecture, and requires to be signed in using NUS userID if you choose to pre-assign
  • Breakout rooms have screen sharing, whiteboard, video, and audio chat capability as the main Zoom meeting.
  • As an instructor, you can choose to wait in the main session while students discuss in the breakout rooms. However, you may enter any of the breakout rooms at any time and switch between rooms to monitor their progress, provide guidance or listen to what is being discussed.
  • While inside a breakout room, students cannot hear audio from the main Zoom session. You will need to use the “Broadcast” option to communicate via text-based message to all participants.
  • Students in the breakout rooms can “Ask for Help” to request that the instructor join their breakout.
  • You also have the option to move students between breakout rooms while they are in rooms to mix up the discussion.
  • You can end the discussions in breakout rooms to bring all participants back to the main Zoom meeting.
  • You can also send participants back to the same breakout groups or create new breakout groups for subsequent discussions.

Using LumiNUS forums for asynchronous group discussions

Here are some recommended good practices for using LumiNUS discussion forums:

  • Create forums for specific topics
    Create dedicated forums for specific topics to reduce cognitive overload and to keep online discussions focused. You could create a general discussion forum (e.g., “FAQs”, “Help!”) for students to post general questions that they may have about the course or even a social forum (e.g., “Student Lounge”) for off-topic discussions. Answering the questions in this public discussion forum allows other students to benefit from the responses, eliminates the duplication of email responses, and makes it possible for students to help one another. Make discussion forums available as needed rather than making them all available at the beginning of the course.
  • Create a schedule of when you will monitor/ respond to the postings
    Helps you to plan how much time you will take to respond to posts. Logging in more than once a day can be ineffective as there may not be any new contributions to read while waiting several days may result in an overwhelming number of discussion contributions to read. Responding where necessary within 24 hours is one way to demonstrate instructor presence in the module.
  • Don’t plan to respond to all postings
    Only respond to those posts that are directed to you, or if your response will contribute to the quality of the discussion.
  • Model expectations when writing your responses
    Ensure that the quality and length of your posts are those you expect of your students.
  • Post a summary/feedback comment
    Consider posting a summary or feedback comment when the discussion has been going for a few days. You could also rephrase the question if the discussion goes off the topic.
  • Specify due dates for required contributions
    If participation or student contributions in an online discussion are required, include the due dates for initial posts and responses in the description.
  • Don’t remove past discussion forums
    Students may want to review past discussions as they proceed through the course. Simply reorder the forums so that current forums are near the top.
  • Save discussion threads for viewing offline
    You could save all discussion threads or specific topics in a forum to read student contributions offline. These can then be printed or saved for offline viewing.

NUS Resources

Wiki Guide on LumiNUS Forum
Facilitating effective online discussions: A resource guide