How the Visual Rhetoric of Online Discussions Enables and Constrains Students’ Participation

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Publication Date



Digital/media literacies, Instructional strategies, methods and materials, Critical analysis < Digital/media literacies, Distance education, distance learning < Digital/media literacies, Visual literacy < Digital/media literacies, Information and communication technologies < Digital/media literacies, Discourse analysis < Research methodology, Discussion strategies < Strategies, methods and materials, Instructional strategies, teaching strategies < Strategies, methods and materials, Instructional technology < Strategies, methods and materials, Genres < Writing, Early adolescence, Adolescence, College/university students

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Whole‐class discussions, in which students share and refine ideas with others, can now take place in online forums. In face‐to‐face classrooms, previous research has identified conversational techniques, such as open‐ended questions and uptake of what others have said, that can promote dialogic, whole‐class discussions. However, few studies have examined how students’ participation can be enabled and constrained by the visual design of online forums. This article evaluates three online conversations among students of different disciplines and geographic regions at secondary, postsecondary, and graduate levels, evaluating the success of each example based first on conversational techniques and then on the visual design of the online forum. Rhetorical principles such as contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity may help teachers evaluate and redesign potential online forums for more effective online discussions, including how classroom setup, routines, and multimedia can shape students’ participation.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, v. 61, issue 3, p. 299-310