Online Class Discussions at IMSA

The quarantine has enabled IMSA to experiment with new virtual learning settings. | Source:

Discussion is a fundamental aspect of a productive and collaborative learning environment, the same environment that can be found at IMSA. However, with the campus closed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some concerns about how discussion will be conducted online. Some classes, specifically in subjects like literature and history, are almost entirely discussion-based, so how will this translate to IMSA’s remote online learning? Do the new versions of these classes continue to fulfill their initial goals? I have reached out to the student body to learn about the three major approaches to online discussion. 


Online Forums

Some classes have adopted forums as an asynchronous alternative to the in-person discussion. For this approach, teachers often assign a reading and post corresponding discussion questions to be answered in Google Classroom or Moodle forums. Through this avenue of discussion, students show comprehension of the material and interact with each other’s ideas through the reply function. However, it’s hard to maintain a lively discussion through forums because of the time elapsed in between responses. From a variety of interviews with the student population, I’ve found that students generally like using forums because students can contribute on their own time when it is convenient for them, but the forums seem impersonal and students may feel removed from the experience.


Synchronous Class Meetings

This option creates a class environment that is the closest to an in-person discussion, which seems to be the optimal result. These meetings are often conducted through Zoom, where teachers can take advantage of the “breakout room” function to carry out partner or “table” discussions. Even though there are potential technological issues and timing issues, this avenue of discussion is preferred by most of the students polled. Many students enjoy having face-to-face interactions, even if it is through a screen, because it maintains a sense of normalcy and familiarity established from the first half of the semester. However, not all students can afford to make these meetings because of family responsibilities or various other obstacles posed by the pandemic or the extended stay at home. Even though the interviews showed that this option is the crowd-favorite, we must consider the accessibility and feasibility of implementing consistent synchronous meetings. 


Papers and Individual Assignments

Some classes have adopted asynchronous comprehension checks through papers and various other individualized assignments. Teachers often post discussion questions or a guideline and assess each students’ comprehension of the material through these assignments, which are submitted through platforms like Google Classroom or Turn It In. Even though these assignments allow for teachers to understand the needs of each student, these assignments don’t encourage students to discuss their ideas with each other, which is an integral part of classroom discussion. From the student interviews, I found that this option was the least popular option, simply because students said they preferred more group discussion because discussion helps them to comprehend the material. 


Most of the discussion-based classes at IMSA have adopted a combination of these remote learning methods and we appreciate all that the IMSA faculty and staff have done to make this transition as smooth as possible. Even though it will be difficult recreating the learning environment we know and love, I have no doubts that we will still have a fulfilling semester, as long as we maintain honest communication and a positive attitude.

About the Author

Rachna Gupta
Rachna Gupta graduated from IMSA in 2021, where she was a proud three-year resident and Residential Student Leader of 1506A. She served as an Editor-In-Chief for the Acronym for the 2020-2021 school year. Other than the Acronym, Rachna was involved in Quizbowl, the ALLIES program, and student research. She is now pursuing undergraduate studies at Harvard University.

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