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For Faculty

Seminars or Discussion Based Courses

Many courses run as seminars with a mix of lecture, discussion, and other learning activities. Much of the success of many seminars depends upon the creation of a learning community or community of inquiry in which students are engaged and feel secure sharing their thoughts, ideas, and questions in class discussions.

This section focuses primarily on resources to help faculty think through their options for designing courses which have both remote students and face-to-face students. Depending on a wide range of variables, including:

  • Overall enrollment numbers
  • Balance/split between remote students and face-to-face students
  • Time zone conflicts for remote students
  • Technological capacity of assigned classroom
  • UR/AS&E policy about required face-to-face components

Faculty will need to make decisions about the most effective and equitable ways to organize their seminar and facilitate discussions.

Course Design

This year, faculty and instructors will need to re-design their course, taking into consideration the needs of both remote students as well as face-to-face students.

This will likely involve creating more structure and organization for whole class discussions. Faculty and instructors may want to use asynchronous discussion strategies to jumpstart, seed, or complement synchronous discussions.

Below are options to consider when designing your courses, as well as links to tools and resources, and practical advice for managing and facilitating each option. Instructors will need to decide which might work best for their courses or for different modules within their course.

Option 1: Separate Discussions for Remote Students and Face-to-Face Students

In this option, remote and face-to-face students essentially create separate communities of inquiry, but use asynchronous discussion options so that each group can benefit from the discussions and insights of the other. Instructors could also create periodical assignments or structured opportunities for collaboration between the two groups.

Quasi-Flipped Classroom

This option works well for seminars with high enrollments, have a fairly even balance between remote and face-to-face students, and incorporate a significant amount of lecture material to provide background and context needed for students to understand the material to be discussed.

In a quasi-flipped classroom lecture material is presented online (asynchronously) and all students are expected to view the lectures as part of their preparation for discussion. Instructors hold two separate discussions on the same material: one session for remote students and one for face-to-face students.

This method requires some additional time and preparation on the part of the instructors as lecture materials would need to be prepared and made available to students in a timely manner.

Students’ weekly time commitment to the course would remain the same since they would all engage with the material once online (lecture materials) and then once in online or face-to-face discussions.

Note: This model works for courses that meet weekly for a three hour timeslot, as well as ones that meet for two 75 minute class periods. For a three hour time slot, the instructor would meet with the remote students during one half of the time period and with the face-to-face students for the other half of the class period.


  • Reduced technology needs, both in terms of classroom technology as well as instructor skill/comfort with technology
  • Potential pedagogical value in two groups of students discussing the same material and, likely, developing different ideas and questions which they could then share with the other group via asynchronous discussion boards or periodic meetings of the entire class online to share perspectives


  • Increases faculty workload in that faculty would need to pre-record/prepare the lecture material to be made available to all students synchronously
  • Essentially creates two sections of the same course (one online, one face-to-face)
  • Increases scheduling difficulty and demands on courses that frequently bring in guest speakers, community partners, and visitors
  • Does not take into consideration potential time-zone issues for certain remote students
Alternate between Synchronous and Asynchronous Discussions

This works well for courses with high enrollments and a fairly even balance between remote and face-to-face students, but which does or does notincorporate a significant amount of lecture material.

In this model, students would alternate participating in asynchronous discussion of the material and synchronous discussion of the material. Instructors will design, monitor, and provide feedback for asynchronous discussion options for every week as well as to hold a “regular” synchronous discussion each week.

Instructors will alternate each week or each session, depending on course design, which group will engage with the instructor in real time (either face-to-face or online) and which group will engage with the instructor and peers via asynchronous methods such as discussion boards, Perusall, Voicethread, etc.

If possible, structure course assignments and course design so that students who participate in the synchronous discussion are required to read and incorporate the ideas, questions, and comments of students who participated asynchronously and to report back to the asynchronous group after the synchronous meetings.


  • Varied modes can help keep students engaged
  • Can allow for student to participate completely asynchronously if time zones are an issue for some remote students
  • Structured integration of asynchronous ideas/questions and synchronous ideas questions can encourage/facilitate effective peer-to-peer education, engagement, and collaboration
  • Reduces the amount of instructor and student exposure by half


  • Increases instructor workload since instructors will need to provide feedback to students engaging with the material asynchronously as well as facilitate the synchronous discussion each week
  • Essentially creates two sections of the same course (one online, one face-to-face)
  • Increases scheduling difficulty and demands on courses that frequently bring in guest speakers, community partners, and visitors
  • Real-time contact with all students is reduced by half

Option 2: Synchronous Discussions with both Face-to-Face and Remote Students

In this model, both remote and face-to-face students participate in the same seminar/discussion sessions synchronously. Face-to-face students are in the classroom with the instructor and remote students participate using technology to facilitate the participation and integration of remote students into the discussion. This is a challenging task, both technologically and pedagogically.

This model would work well for classes with high or low enrollments, classes with an uneven balance between remote students and face-to-face students, and which does or does not include a significant amount of lecture material.

Instructors interested in using this option may want to consider the following options and capacities when designing their seminars:

  • Use a TA/peer educator to help monitor and manage those students who are online to make sure that they are able to engage as fully as possible in whole class discussions.
    • Alternatively: Instructor could rotate the responsibility among the face-to-face students to serve this peer educator function. Students could take turns being responsible for monitoring the “chat” or question and answer functions or to notice when remote students “raise their hands.”
  • Use classroom technology to enable online students to be “present” during the seminar discussion along with face-to-face students.
    • Training on the technological capacities of your assigned classroom
    • ECM has ordered and is installing microphone/speakers in classrooms to permit remote students to hear class discussions
    • If possible, use larger screens in classrooms (i.e. TVs or pull-down screens) to increase the physical size and visibility of remote students


  • Equity: all student share the same educational experience
  • Creation of a single community of inquiry
  • Instructors do not have to repeat discussion sessions or monitor two different sections of the course


  • Potential for technical glitches is high
  • Steep learning/comfort curve for students and instructors to get used to this kind of integrated set up for whole-class discussions
  • Does not take into consideration potential time-zone issues for certain remote students
  • If a face-to-face student monitors remote students rather than a peer educator, this detracts from the student’s class experience


Facilitating whole-class discussions among remote students and face-to-face students and/or among face-to-face students is a challenging task. Faculty may find that they may:

  • Have to structure and organize whole class discussions more than they typically do if they have both remote students and face-to-face students
  • Want to use asynchronous discussion strategies to jumpstart, seed, or complement synchronous discussions

Encouraging Student Preparation for Discussion

Seminar and discussion classes rely on student preparation for discussion. Online courses and hybrid courses may benefit from additional strategies to increase student preparation and to create expectations and an environment that will enable a high level of student engagement.

Asynchronous Discussion Boards

Structured and strategic use of asynchronous discussion can help seed, jumpstart, or complement real-time discussion sessions. Additionally, these discussion boards can facilitate peer-to-peer education and collaboration, particularly in a class where some students will be remote and some will be face-to-face.

Asynchronous discussion boards can also encourage active learning more effectively than some traditional pedagogical models.

Collaborative Annotation of Texts (Asynchronously)

Many seminar and discussion courses involve the close, careful reading and analysis of texts. In some traditional pedagogical models, students read the assigned material in isolation and share their ideas with instructors by writing response papers and sharing their ideas with their peers in whole class discussions. Developing a social reading and shared annotation practice in seminar courses can create dynamic interaction among students and increase active learning as well as contribute to more active engagement during real-time whole class discussions.

Educational tool: Perusall is a program that allows for the interactive and collective annotation of texts. Students and faculty can annotate texts, write comments and questions in the margins, and highlight specific passages. It allows for social reading and interactive engagement among peers and between students and faculty. Students can make their own annotations (questions, comments, observations) and they can also reply and interact with each other’s annotations.

Peer-to-Peer Education

Faculty may want to encourage increased peer-to-peer education and small-group collaboration as part of student preparation for seminar discussions.

Educational tool: CATME is web-based, student team or small-group tool, that supports students so that they can work together effectively outside of class. CATME enables students in different time-zones to schedule their collaboration, and enables effective peer review and peer feedback.

Encouraging and Managing Student Participation in Online Discussions

Facilitating online discussions or discussions that synchronously integrate remote students and face-to-face students can be more challenging and require different pedagogical strategies than traditional seminars or discussion based courses or than an online discussion.

If possible, instructors may want to do a test-run of the technology in their assigned classroom before the semester begins in order to smooth out possible technological glitches or issues with respect to both audibility and visibility. Contact Event and Classroom Management to arrange a time to access your classroom and sign up for relevant training.

Cold Calling and Warm Calling

Encouraging a wide range of students to participate, especially when some students are online and some are face-to-face, can be challenging. Relying strictly on voluntary participation can result in uneven engagement on the part of students, yet students often are nervous about being “called on.”

Establish a range of both cold calling and warm calling strategies in your class so that students know what to expect, have opportunities to share their ideas and questions if they tend to be quieter, and can develop their oral skills. Be open and transparent about how cold calling and warm calling will work in your class and explain how these strategies enable students to engage more fully in class and develop their skills.

Think, Pair, and Share

Think, pair, and share is a well-known technique used to enable students to think through questions and ideas, discuss them initially with a peer in a low-stakes exchange, and then share them with the larger group.

Instructors could use the think-pair-share technique through the use of breakout rooms in Zoom and through the use of shared Google Docs among face-to-face students in the classroom.

If face-to-face students all have access to and have brought their laptops or tablets to class, the strategy of think-pair-share could be used to increase interaction between remote students and face-to-face students. Each remote student could be paired with a face-to-face students to work through the exercise together.


The fishbowl discussion technique is a strategy in which smaller groups of students take turns "in the bowl" and "out of the bowl". A set of students (who are in the fishbowl) are assigned to facilitate a discussion, engage in a pro/con argument, analyze a problem, etc. The other students observe and take notes on the discussion and then provide constructive critique, offer alternative interpretations not yet shared, ask further questions, etc. Then, the groups switch—either during the same discussion session or in alternate sessions.

This technique might work particularly well when working synchronously with remote students and face-to-face students. During one fishbowl discussion, the remote students would be in the fishbowl; during another fishbowl discussion, the face-to-face students would be in the fishbowl.

Learning Activities

Instructors may want to incorporate additional or different types of learning activities during synchronous sessions. Please consult the learning activities page for additional options.


Many instructors incorporate significant boardwork in their seminars. Please consult the whiteboard section on the education technology tools page for options. Instructors can use an online whiteboard alternative that is projected within the classroom to make board work visible to both remote students and face-to-face students simultaneously.

Assessing Student Understanding During Seminar Discussions

Monitoring and assessing student engagement during seminar discussions in an online class or in a class containing both face-to-face and remote students can be a helpful way to encourage more dynamic student engagement as well as to increase the integration of remote students into the seminar discussion.


Polling can be a quick and easy way to assess student understanding and student engagement for both remote students as well as face-to-face students. There are many education technology tools that allow for different kinds of polling options:

  • Zoom Polling allows remote students to take yes/no or multiple choice polls.
  • Poll Everywhere enables you to create polls that students can take during class for feedback. Yes/no, multiple choice, word clouds.
Muddiest Concept

Pause the whole-class discussion at opportune moments and invite students to share, either via the chat or Q&A windows or by raising their hands, the concept or idea or passage that is still unclear or is “muddy” for them. Instructors can clarify or use this an opportunity to engage other students and encourage peer-to-peer education by asking other students to clarify the concept or respond to questions.

Minute” or Quickwrite Papers

Pause the whole-class discussion at opportune moments and have students write a “minute” paper. Minute papers can be used to assess basic understanding, but also to have students engage in higher order metacognitive synthesis of what they have learned thus far.

Assessing Participation for Remote Students

Participation and grades for participation are typically a significant component for seminar courses, sometimes accounting for as much as 20 percent of a student’s final course grade. Instructors working with remote students will need to facilitate the participation of remote students and establish clear and equitable grading guidelines or rubrics for assessing participation grades for remote students as well as face-to-face students.


Consider taking attendance by having remote students type their names in the chat box when they log-in. Instructors can take attendance of face-to-face student themselves or ask them to use the chat box check-in process as well.

Another option is to take attendance by having remote students post a brief question or comment related to that session’s readings or discussion topic when they sign in. To make this equitable, face-to-face students would also arrive to class with a brief written question or comment written on a card or piece of paper that they turn in to mark their attendance. Please note that the paper option may not be possible if health rules do not permit the collection and distribution of paper items in class.

Instructors can also use the Qwickly attendance tool.

Asynchronous/Synchronous Participation

Develop clear guidelines and standards for assessing the required levels of engagement in both asynchronous discussion boards and synchronous discussion sessions as well as how each of these modes of participation will be assessed when calculating a student’s final grade.