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Are you looking for ways to get students involved in discussion earlier in the week?
Do you wonder about how students are responding to your course material?

Online Fashion Journalism Instructor Alexey Bulokhov (FSH 313: Style Icons and Fashion Objects), who also authored this online course, developed this strategy based on his prior experiences as a peer trainer in social justice and activism:

Alexey set up a separate discussion topic that stays open throughout the semester, where he encourages his students to give immediate feedback on the course material as they review it.

He emphasizes that the topic is explicitly designated as optional, ungraded and not counting towards their participation grade.

Here's what the topic says:

Topic title:  First Impressions

Note: The general title of this topic is "First Impressions," but Alexey edits the title each week to reflect the content of the current module. For example:

    • SMELLS LIKE... First Impressions (for a module on perfumery)
    • BACK TO BLACK... First Impressions (for a module on the Little Black Dress and Chanel)
    • WHAT'S IN THE BAG? First Impressions (for a module on handbags)

Topic description

I see many of us start the module earlier in the week and submit assignments later on. This makes sense, as you need time to process the information and prepare your response. I want to suggest something else to keep the ball rolling meanwhile... This is an optional space for you to share your first reactions to the module.


Did something strike you as WOW, OMG or WTF? An idea, an image, a reference that particularly moved you? Did something make no sense? Which point(s) made you go… huh, I should probably maybe look more into that? First impressions, really.

Participation in this Discussion thread can help us feel more connected and have more fun while getting through the content and the work.

Here is a sampling of students' comments:

  • Last week's module was a good introduction into what this class is going to be like. The one thing that surprised me was how hard it was to decipher what items in our closet are considered an iconic item and what are just a current trend.
  • I've always admired fashion photography but didn't know much about its evolution. I never realized everything that goes into play for it and find it very interesting and good information to know.
  • The image that jumped out the most for me was the image of Karlie Kloss shot by Patrick Demarchelier. In design class I am working on a collection inspired by the homeless that is balanced out by the beauty of a botanical garden and I was filled with ideas on how to render my croquis from that image.
  • Now that we have been in class for about a month, I feel like I am settling into my schedule and classes much better.  I really enjoy this class because everything is so much fun.  I feel like I am learning a lot and my mind is being expanded in a new way that helps me explore fashion more, especially when I am looking through all the new fashion shows.  Overall this class is my favorite this semester because the energy is always so positive and upbeat which makes the class more fun and I feel that I am learning more and my mind is able to absorb the lessons much easier because I truly enjoy it. 
  • It was surprising to me that basic kind of bags such as plastic bags and lunch bags can be regarded as iconic bags. I had never think of the history and culture references of these bags before this module.
  • I have to say how excited I am for all the modules so far. It really starting to make sense to me what makes something iconic and how some garments, shoes and bags continue to be relevant over the years. What I love is that we get to see the story behind it. This module I have been obsessed with the craftsmanship of luxury bags and have been watching videos non stop. It has also been amazing to know where the names come from and start understanding more about their design and meaning.

Alexey describes his experience with this topic:

So far I have found this thread to be an insightful pulse-checker for both the course and the class. As an instructor and course author it helps me understand and keep track of:

  • how the content comes across and it delivers its message;
  • how information from this course impacts students' work/learning/life elsewhere;
  • which elements elicit the most response and what falls flat;
  • the range of perspectives and experiences within the group.

Also, I think some of the feedback that comes through the FIRST IMPRESSIONS would not reach me otherwise, because it might be a type of information either not requested by the module content and/or information students may not feel confident in sharing as part of the evaluative process. This thread provides a bit of “safe space” to freely share.

In addition, I am cataloguing notes from this thread for the course revision at the end of the semester.

What strategies do you use to get students involved in the conversation early in the module? 


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  1. Many online instructors are frustrated by their students' failure to post in the class discussion before the end of the week. One reason for this is that discussion questions often require students to absorb and process the course content for the week before they can effectively participate in the conversation. I love Alexey's approach, because it offers a great way to get students engaged right away with both the material and with one another. 

  2. Thank you Alexey and Jennifer!  I am definitely going to implement this immediately!!!!! This is perfect!!!

    Jeryl Jagoda

    Crowdfunding and Social Media

  3. This is a great idea...I like that it calls for interaction and encourages the student to do an early overview of the module. Thanks Alexey and Jenny for sharing.

  4. This is great! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly... have been doing something similar, except using the existing Instructor's Office as the location. It has worked fairly well, though it still seems there will always be a percentage of students who are reluctant to have a "give and take". It seems that 1st semester students are less likely to participate than advanced students.

  6. Shouldn't we be attempting to raise the level of discourse and understanding of material among our students? The processes and standards of social media do not easily map onto higher education of engaged, critical, creative, and productive practitioners. Asking for a superficial 'LOL' or 'WTF' does little to ask the students to develop sophisticated or informed opinions about class topics. We don't have 'like' buttons on the LMS for this reason. Starting conversations with first impressions won't work with every discipline our school teaches.


    Students should come into the online learning environment with the expectation that this is not a social media forum or gallery of self-interest. The standards for their participation should be high and grounded in both the requirements of the course and the best examples of the discipline. Provocation is expected, but glib answers should not be the expectation or the norm. As it is, students are asked not to post discussion contributions that consist of "I agree".


    Jennifer's got it right; it takes time to process and understand the material, at every level of education. There are other interventions instructors can make to promote engaged discussion, such as asking students to identify the main idea in course readings, apply course examples to other projects, discuss how course material might relate to their personal lives, or provide more examples from professional practice of the examples given in the module.


    Alternately, one way of encouraging earlier posting would be to simply start the modules on Saturdays. Students tend to do most of their work on weekends, which is when instructors have time off. Why not synchronize the two schedules to reinforce responsible posting on everyone's part?

  7. Both Alexey and Hans bring to the fore, albeit from different perspectives, the quintessential issues that confront instructors everyday - the question of how to engage students and how to serve our students.  I have taught onsite and online, as have many instructors.  There is no one formula for achieving success in either type of classroom.

    I am 1000% behind Hans and his question "shouldn't we be attempting to raise the level of discourse and understanding of material among our students?"  Yes!  Absolutely.  And I'm confident that Alexey feels that way too, and based on the feedback he shared, he has accomplished that very goal.  Alexey is teaching a class that has a lot to do with how fashion impacts the joy of personal expression, but at the same time raises students’ awareness about history, trends and connections to popular culture. 

    Alexey is doing something very important with his “First Impressions” approach – he is meeting students where they are at.  Text message acronyms are not appropriate in formal writing, but as attention-getters for undergraduate students, can serve to invite deeper engagement with the content – clearly they work in this context. 

    Alexey’s approach is effective and nurtures students’ interest, offering reasons to want to learn more and stick with the program.  Alexey is raising the level of critical thinking, and when taken to the next level by inquisitive and intrepid students, is encouraging further research and perhaps broadening one’s view of the world.  AND even more important, Alexey considers the students’ comments as a measure of whether or not the course content is successfully communicating his intended message.  We all need to keep top of mind that we are here to serve our students.  It behooves us to be aware of any signals that may indicate the contrary, and be intentional about looking for them!

    I am fervently committed to the idea that expectations should be kept high no matter what kind of class we are talking about.   University level work does require intellectual rigor!   Creative people, by definition, are innovators!   We need to explore new ways to support student achievement at a high level without falling victim to pedantic, rigid thinking that keeps us, as instructors from evolving.

    Alexey and Hans both, have come to us with an idea.   Alexey has offered an innovative approach that connects students with course content and gets the cerebral juices flowing.  Hans has presented us with a rethinking about the opening dates of modules – starting discussions on Saturday when students are most likely to be working in online classes!   

    Thank you to two instructors who have exhibited passion for their role as teachers.  They brought ideas to this forum and are challenging all of us to think in new ways. They are both due much appreciation.   

  8. Thanks, Hans and Ellie. I agree with you both that we want to raise the level of discourse in our classes. To me, the power of Alexey's approach is that it helps students begin to get engaged with the content of the module and with each other. Topics like this aren't a be-all-and-end-all; they're a beginning. If we can get students engaged and pique their curiosity, that's a great way to get them thinking about the module material.

    When we think about the value of discussion in an online class, it seems to me that there are two key goals: one is to encourage critical thinking, analysis and writing skills. But a very important second goal is to encourage students to form a community and to engage with each other and with the instructor. So many recent studies have demonstrated the importance of personal connection in student learning, and an activity like Alexey's helps especially with this latter goal. At the same time, it's also important to provide opportunities for students to discuss the week's material at a higher level and to engage their critical thinking skills. It seems to me that both kinds of activities have a place in online classes.

  9. I've been using a way to keep discussions lively in my classes, and it most works.

    I started including a non-gradable, out of outline topic box called 'What did I see today?' 

    Into that, I post anything that can be considered to be newsworthy or interesting to the class. It may be old, but if I saw it today for the first time and it's interesting, I'll post it.

    I ask the class to do the same and drive discussion around the class subject.

    It's fascinating to see, but when I am teaching several sections of the same class, each section seems to develop a kind of herd instinct. One section might discuss and post with great enthusiasm, while another will follow the lead of ignoring it as it doesn't gain marks. (That herd instinct also manifests itself in everyone in one class getting it all wrong after one student responds in a topic, while another section it's no problem. I have noticed this over the years I've been working multiple section classes.)

    When it works, which it usually does, students gain a good opportunity to develop and enhance their own class presence. And we all learn from what each other posts.