Effective Practices: Overlapping Discussions

Originally posted on September 22, 2011 by Brian Beatty

One method of combining f2f and online students that I have found effective is to overlap the two sets of students in a topical discussion. Often, I will use small discussion groups in class to focus on various aspects of a concept or principle we are studying. Those groups will usually create some form of summary to report back to the larger group in a debriefing discussion that I facilitate. Since we have access to our LMS in class, the student groups are expected to post their summaries (text, PPT, web links,etc.) to a threaded discussion forum in preparation for the whole class discussion.

When online students are part of our synchronous class, they join in the live small group discussions, either together with other synchronous online students (using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool) or with one or more f2f students using a local computer workstation to connect. Online students who complete their class activites later that week are required to join in the topical discussion that was started in class. I’ve found that some f2f students are drawn back into the discussion forum later in the week, in response to the participation of their online colleagues, even though they aren’t required to extend their participation beyond the formal class session.

This method provides a richer online discussion for asynchronous online students, since they can join in discussions already started, and their f2f colleagues may be more likely to respond to posts connecting to their previous work (in class). More interaction in the discussion forum throughout the week helps all students stay more closely connected to the class (content and people), because they “see” interaction happening through the regular system messages they receive. Finally, another benefit to the f2f students is that their discussions in class create meaningful artifacts that summarize their thinking and provide an opportunity for ongoing reflection about course content as discussion extends beyond the end of the class session.

Overall I find this approach very effective and easy to facilitate. The biggest challenge is integrating live online students into the small group discussions, but even that becomes quick and efficient with a little practice and experience (both for the instructor and both sides of the student connection).

Try it yourself! Let me know how it works for you.


  • Brian Beatty

    Dr. Brian Beatty is Professor of Instructional Design and Technology in the Department of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University. At SFSU, Dr. Beatty pioneered the development and evaluation of the HyFlex course design model for blended learning environments, implementing a “student-directed-hybrid” approach to better support student learning.

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