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While online classes usually have discussion questions written into the modules, most instructors prefer — eventually, if not in their first semester — to formulate their own discussion questions. Creating your own questions allows you to shape the conversation in the class to match your particular interests, to address current events, or to consider students’ concerns in greater depth.In your first semester of online teaching, the simplest option is to use the questions suggested in your course modules — and this is perfectly acceptable. But should you want to take on the challenge of writing your own discussion questions at some point, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, lively discussion begins with good questions: if you are not interested in a discussion topic, chances are your students won’t be interested either! So here’s one good rule of thumb: if you can easily write a paragraph or two in response to a discussion question, it’s probably a viable topic.


There are all sorts of approaches you can take when writing discussion questions, but here are a few strategies that have worked for other online instructors.

Especially at the beginning of the semester, it’s helpful to use an icebreaker to get students to share something personal with the class.


For a calligraphy class: While we are still in the first week, I think it would be fun to introduce ourselves by way of writing just first names or nicknames on a page, however you want to do it. Write on a paper bag with a paintbrush, sandpaper with charcoal, pencil on fabric, brush, ball point pen on copy paper, marker, any color... you name it... use whatever you feel like that expresses your sense of things. We can call this the "Before" and in 15 weeks we'll have an example of the "After." (suggested by Ann Miller)

For a course on aesthetics: Think about a time you saw a piece of art and thought "Wow, this is beautiful!" It may have been in a museum, in your home, or maybe at your place of worship. What was this piece? Describe it for us. What was beautiful about it? Embed an image of the artwork that inspired you, if possible, in your post. (suggested by Kevin Koczela)

Connect with students’ experience and opinions: ask questions that allow them to draw on what they already know. Especially at the beginning of the semester, it’s helpful to give students a chance to discuss issues with which they already have some familiarity.


What is your favorite advertising tagline? Post it. Explain why you like it and how it fits into the brand. Why do you think it is memorable? (suggested by Ann O’Phelan)

Ask about students' process — how are they approaching an assignment, what problems they’re encountering, what’s working and not working, etc. This gives them a chance to share ideas and strategies with their classmates.


What have you liked about the class so far and what have you found inspiring? Have there been difficulties and how have you overcome them? Do you have any tips and suggestions for your fellow classmates? (suggested by Linda Horn)

Ask students to think further about ideas presented in the module content or readings: have them think about the relationships between ideas or the implications of particular concepts. Or ask them to apply what they have learned to a new context and present their ideas to the class.



for a visual merchandising class

In each module, I pose a specific problem in a store context and ask how they would solve it. I match the question to the module subject matter. (suggested by Leesa Klotz)

Encourage students to make connections between ideas presented in the modules or readings and some aspect of their knowledge and experience. Help them to understand the relevance of course material in the wider world.


In the reading assignment from Art and Abstraction, Nathan Cabot Hale states that the sciences are quantitative and the arts are qualitative. What do you think of Hale's view of art and science? Here are some ideas you might want to bring into the discussion: Do you agree that arts are qualitative while sciences are quantitative? What does that mean? How does Hale divide the role of art and science? What is the role of the individual artist? (suggested by Kathleen Quaife)

Ask them to review or critique something from a particular perspective or in a particular context.


Invite students to critique some of your work (perhaps something you’re not entirely satisfied with), based on the criteria for the current assignment. (suggested by David Spindler)

Ask students to research something — on the internet or in person — and then report back to the class. Be sure to specify what they should comment on. Ask them to find and post images, if they want- or just provide a link to the URL.


A 2-module discussion for a studio art class: Take a personal fieldtrip (to a local museum, exhibit, gallery, etc.) and choose an artist to report on. Learn as much as you can about this artist and then post a description of what you learned, along with examples of the work you saw. (suggested by Jason Bowen)

Ask students to discuss something controversial, especially if the issue has bearing on their own lives.


For a module on the 1950s Hollywood blacklists, McCarthyism, etc.: Would you have named names? If you were put in the situation of being "forced" to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee, what do you think you'd have done? (suggested by Dave Chernick)

For a PhotoShop class: What are the ethical considerations around the retouching of photographs? Are these issues different in different contexts? (e.g., fashion, documentary, advertising, fine art, etc.) (suggested by Victoria Heilweil)

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