Electronic Communication Across the Curriculum (ECAC)
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) ECAC Home
Donna Reiss
Active Learning Online

Discussion Patterns

To personalize the exchange and emphasize audience, consider framing these messages as letters addressed "Dear Classmates" to the group and "Dear Pat" to individual classmates.

  1. First message: interpretation or explanation or reflection with support (benefits: thinking about the issue, articulating that thinking, developing support for a position, writing for a specific audience, and sometimes reading or research). For example:
    • Write a 150-250-word letter addressed to your classmates (for example, "Dear Classmates") in which you write about the topic specified for your Group.
    • Read through the messages already posted for your group to be sure yours does not simply repeat what a classmate already has said but presents a different focus or approach.
    • Be sure your message identifies and develops the topic, expresses your ideas clearly, and includes specific details and examples.
    • If you wish, end with a specific question or request clarification or another perspective on a specific point.
  2. Second message: reply to one or more people with supported elaboration and/or alternative view (benefits: reading more about the issue, reflecting on it in terms of another perspective, developing support for a position, connection with a peer novice scholar, articulating that thinking, and writing for a specific audience). To ensure that everybody receives a reply, direct students to respond to a message that has not already received a reply. For example:
    • Reply to one letter, selecting one that has not yet received a Reply. If every letter has received a Reply, select one that has received no more than two replies (and so on).
    • To clarify to whom you are writing (but use the person's name, not Pat Smart):
      1. Delete the current message subject and change the Subject line to To Pat Smart
      2. Address the letter to the recipient, for example, "Dear Pat Smart" or "Hi Pat"
    • Write a 150-250-word reply letter that
      1. Clearly and concisely identifies the issue expressed in your classmate's letter and
      2. Develops a response in one or more of these ways:
        • expands with additional explanation and examples
        • extends with additional topics or approaches
        • answers the question asked
        • offers a new perspective or an alternative point of view
  3. Third message: reply to same person with "thanks" or explanation of how the 2nd message was helpful in increasing understanding of the topic (benefits: review, affirmation of scholarly community, articulating their understanding, and writing for a specific audience)
  4. Fourth message: summary of the messages from all group members to include key similarities and differences in the group’s understanding (benefits: analysis of responses and issues, organizing information, review, affirmation of scholarly community, articulating their understanding, and writing for a specific audience)
  1. Add a collaborative message: students in a group meet together in person or online to discuss the topic and write together a summary and culminating message.
  2. Establish a detailed reply paradigm such as an argument or research for responding to topics:
    1. First respondent writes a statement asserting a position or perspective about the topic.
    2. Second respondent adds evidence/examples/ details to support the position.
    3. Third respondent offers an alternative view.
    4. Fourth respondent adds evidence/examples/ details to support the alternative view.
    5. Fifth respondent adds documented research to further support the original position.
    6. Sixth respondent adds documented research to further support the alternative view.
    7. Seventh respondent summarizes the two positions and provides a concluding statement.
  3. Send students to the other groups: After contributing one or more messages to their own group, they read and respond to the writings of another group on another topic.
  4. Add a reflective component in wihch students write about the process: what they learned about the topic and about communicating ideas, how they would change the process, how they liked the process.
  5. Add an oral component in which students report to the class the highlights of their discussion.
  6. Let students establish their own topics and select their own groups with a framework you provide. For example, the first 5 people to participate identify the topics. The next people to participate select a topic group to join but always must keep the number of people in the groups even (you can't be the 4th person to join a group if any other group still has only 2 people it).

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developed and copyright ©1996 by
D. Reiss
modified and copyright ©19 February 2005 by
D. Reiss