Online discussions serve the same purpose as those that occur in-class, or anywhere else for that matter. Ideas are brought up and kicked around, students share and examine individual insights and perspectives; theoretically, everyone gains a greater understanding of the subject-at-hand.
What's the difference? Physicality: Place and time. Online, a discussion does not require the physical presence of a group gathered together at a pre-arranged time. Online, real-time contraints become malleable. This is especially helpful to students involved in collaborative assignments who may find it difficult to coordinate schedules: they can exchange ideas without having to meet face-to-face.
With online discussion capabilities, teacher-to-student and student-to-student communications reach beyond the classroom expanding and reframing available teaching and learning moments. In addition, online discussions foster a sense of community—a sense of participation in a shared enterprise—when distance and other factors inhibit classmates from gathering on a regular basis.
Online discussions depend upon participants entering their contributions into a Web form on a Web page and then submitting those forms to a common Web server.
Once received, the server will process the form, be it by adding the contents to a database, emailing them to listserv subscribers, or attaching them to an accessible user group Web page.
Confirmation of the submission is often instantaneous, in the form of an autorespond email delivered back to the submitter's email inbox by the host Web server.
Small group discussions are ideal for workshops and group projects. If you're asking students to collaborate on research or writing, group discussions provide an electronic space where group members can meet.
Faculty at CSU may create online Discussion Forums and Chat Rooms on the RamCT Web site. For detailed instructions please see Going Online Using RamCT.