This unit is an introduction to how online dialogues are carried out in educational settings. In this unit you will be presented with pedagogical principles to consider when having an online dialogue, as well as key theory from Diane Laurillard on learning through discussion, and pedagogical set-up of online dialogues in teaching from Bengtsen & Nørgård. You will also be presented with general points to consider when introducing online dialogues to your students. Lastly you will explore three different set-ups for online dialogues.

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See One -Pedagogical principles and set-up
  • Dialogical pedagogy
  • Teaching through discussion
  • Student preparation
  • Pedagogical set-up
  • Practical examples
  • Reading & watching videos on the subject
  • Exploring three pedagogical set-ups
  • Reflection journal entry
  • Dialogue cards
  • Understanding of key aspects of dialogical pedagogy and teaching through discussion
  • Insight into different pedagogical set-ups of online dialogues
  • Experience on how online dialogues might look through practical examples

Dialogical pedagogy

What makes pedagogy dialogical may be explained from the following key features of dialogue in pedagogical contexts. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but some of the core traits that emerges when looking across literature on dialogue in teaching, supervision, mentoring, and coaching.  



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Relational Intelligence

Teaching through discussion

This section is based on key insights in relation to “Teaching through discussion” by Diane Laurillard. If you want to explore this in depth (along with other teaching methods) it can be found in her book “Teaching as a Design Science” (2012).

According to Laurillard (2012), peer discussion is an important way of learning. She references Vygotsky's “all the higher psychological functions originate as actual relations between human individuals”  which again underlines the importance Vygotsky puts on communications and dialogue as integral part of the learning process. These dialogic relations are what teaches the individual to internalize knowledge. As Vygotsky (from Laurillard, 2012) puts it: “communication produces the need for checking and confirming thoughts”. It is however important to note that, for adults, these internal developmental processes doesn’t only happen when interacting with people. This is due to the fact that adults, by experiencing this as children, have learned to “carry out this internal conversation for themselves (Laurillard, 2012)”

To achieve the benefits of teaching through discussion Laurillard (2012) stresses the importance of the right planning. She advises that peer discussion needs to be carefully planned in order to have the right pedagogical effect

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In her book Laurillard (2012) defines three types of online teacher-led interaction.

The tutorial, with one student presenting, who then gets challenged through discussion by the teacher and a couple of other students.

The seminar, is led by the teacher and similar to the tutorial, only with more students and inter-student discussion.

Lastly, the discussion group, a student- or tutor-led discussion on a specific topic.

When teaching through discussion, students are encouraged to develop solutions and opinions through interacting and entering into dialogue with each other. Laurillard also stresses that the dialogue will fail if the teacher/tutor talks too much themselves, turning learning through discussion into learning through acquisition. This might also happen if the groups are too big so students disappear into the background and falls back into listening rather than discussion mode.

In learning through discussion, the teacher needs to play an active and orchestrating role when it comes to structuring the discussion, and thereby scaffolding the learning process. This is,  according to Laurillard, done by:

  • Providing materials for students to study and discuss
  • Advice students to prepare in advance through metacommunication
  • Clarify that students might be called on to answer questions (cold calling) and enter the dialogue if they do not participate
  • Assess each students level of participation (Laurillard, 2012, page 149)

She also offers tips to the teacher, and explains that students value teachers who:

  • Ensure that ideas are related to real world experiences, their own and their students
  • Facilitate students in structuring, challenging, questioning and controlling
  • Ask critical, leading, open ended questions
  • Create a supportive classroom environment, encouraging, relaxed, creating trust through dialogue
  • Affirm student contributions and provide constructive feedback (Dallimore, Hertenstein, and Platt 2004; from Laurillard, 2012, page 149-150)"

If you are interested to know more about Teaching through discussion and Diane Laurillard's insights into Teaching as design science you can see this in-depth video:

Diana Laurillard - Teaching as a design science

Student preparation

When we go online to have learning dialogues or discussions either with each other in the online classroom or through opening the room up to the outside world, we need something to talk about. The learning dialogue needs to center around a topic to be explored through dialogue or discussion between students and teacher or other external participants. This imply that you and your students have prepared on the subject to be discussed. The students can for example prepare by solving a task, doing fieldwork, having read text or doing an assignment. The students can then take turns presenting and discussing with each other, the teacher or external participants.


Watch this video to learn what Oxford expects of it's students in reference to tutorials - you can even share it with your students before your first session. University of Oxford - Resources for Tutorials

According to Laurillard (2012), a number of studies show that teaching through discussion requires students in learning dialogues to:

  • Take a particular position with respect to a concept or conjecture
  • Provide evidence and explanations for their argument or position
  • Consider, respond to or challenge counterarguments as well as share and critique each other's ideas
  • Reflect on their own perspectives in relation to those of others
  • Work towards an agreed output, negotiating meaning, or collaborating on a decision
  • Apply what they have learned 

(Bonk and King 1998; Kanuka and Garrison 2004; Lillejord and Dysthe 2008; Pfister and Oehl 2009; Reznitskaya et al. 2009; Schellens and Valcke 2006; Swann 2007; from Laurillard 2012 page 143)

Overall, you need to consider what dialogical pedagogy as described in the above section might mean for your teaching, and how you can encourage your students to incorporate this in ways that are respectful and serves the online dialogue in a positive manner. If you want to know more you can see an example of how an 8th grade teacher incorporates it in her everyday academic discussion by following on this link


Online dialogues, three pedagogical setups

In the diagrams that will be presented below you will find three different pedagogical set-ups for running playful online dialogues or teaching through discussion. You can explore the diagrams to discover the different roles and functions of the set-ups and the text will describe them in more detail. They all use the video conferencing system Google Hangout or Hangouts on Air with Youtube Live, but similar set-ups can be achieved with systems such as Zoom, Skype or The important point is to reflect on the different possibilities, potentials and challenges associated with the different systems and set-ups. Do you want a simple set-up where the whole dialogue is contained within a single room such as a traditional Skype conversation where people meet to talk in a room closed off to the outside world? Do you want a bit more advanced set-up where students not able to participate in the online dialogue are still able to follow it from the outside or view it after it has taken place? Or do you want an even more advanced set-up where the room is open for the outside world to enter into the dialogue and where students can engage in  oral and/or written discussions with each other and the world across different communication channels? Put together these three set-ups constitute three layers of dialogue intertwined and in interaction with each other. Depending on the pedagogical aim, interaction and intended learning outcomes layers might be removed or added.

All three set-ups are inspired by Julia Horn's description of the Oxford Tutorial in her article "Signature Pedagogy/Powerful pedagogy: the Oxford tutorial system in the Humanities" that highlights the student's experience of this format:


more recent accounts of tutorials tend towards a more developmental, nurturing atmosphere. This is not to say that competitive and combative tutorials never take place, but that there is also a significant use of the setting to create safe spaces for discussion in which risks can be taken and difficulties discussed without fear of humiliation (Horn, 2013)

The first pedagogical set-up is the inner closed room. This room is  run by the teacher and facilitated as a simple videoconference call to a selected group of students that can gain access through connecting to the call and participating in the dialogue. The room is much like a traditional classroom in that there is a podium and seats - whoever speaks takes the podium while the rest of the participants listens in their seats at the bottom of the screen. Whenever a new participant begins to speak she/he takes the podium. It is the tutor or teacher that is responsible for running the online dialogue, opening the room and welcoming everybody, set and keep the agenda as well as being responsible for the interaction and experience taking place in the room.

Many videoconferencing systems allow for the online dialogue in the closed classroom to be recorded, allowing for students that were not able to participate or students that want to revisit the session to see it. Furthermore videoconferencing systems that do not require an internal institutional login also enable the attendance of external tutors, teachers or participants.

In the illustration below, a student is currently presenting to the other students and tutors that are listening and responding (resulting in them taking the podium)


The next pedagogical setup is the outer spectator room. Here, external group rooms are connected with the inner classroom enabling students to follow and participate from the outside. These external rooms enable students in transit, at work, at sick leave (or sick), or potentially, everyone else having access to the link and interested in following the dialogue from the outside. While the participant seats in the inner room could be termed 'hot seats' due to visibility and active participation in the dialogue, the participant seats in the outer spectator room could be termed 'cold seats', due to the ability to follow the dialogue live as it unfolds but inability to intervene and participate.

In this way, students and outside spectators can follow the dialogue in the inner room much in the same way as you would follow live sports matches, song competitions or tv debates. The potential of 'drawing back the curtains' to the inner closed room so that interested spectators can look in are many and have possibilities and implications for both sides and will be summed up below.

You can explore the diagram below and reflect on how such as setup might transform, benefit or impact your teaching and your students' learning through playful online dialogues.

The last pedagogical setup is the multi-layered dialogue room. Here the inner closed room and the outer spectator room is connected through parallel synchronous dialogue rooms that can function in different ways. They can be either oral or written, only open to specific members or open to all, and function as participation in the dialogue, support/inspiration to the dialogue or back-channel discussion, elaboration and organisation/curation of the dialogue taking place in the inner room.

All these forms are represented and can be explored in the diagram below.

These parallel rooms create a multi-layered dialogue room where participants in the inner room, students in the outer room and spectaters can enter into dialogue together: Someone from the outside can ask participants in the inner room to raise questions, ask for elaborations and so on. They can also help participants in the inner room by answering posed questions, give input, provide sources and definitions, prepare contributions to the dialogue and more. And they can also curate, summarise, evaluate and organise the knowledge emerging from the online dialogue in the inner and parallel rooms.


Diagram inspired by Søren S.E. Bengtsen and Rikke Toft Nørgård's article on the format of online heatseat tutorials (2018)


Taken together the three pedagogical setups constitute a sophisticated dialogic media-ecology aimed at creating connections and conversations between participants in the inner room, between students in the inner room and students in the outer room, and between students and the outside world. By opening up the classroom dialogue and/or creating multi-layered dialogues new opportunities and possibilities arise for participants both outside and inside the classroom:

  • Participants in the hot seats inside the dialogue room obtain an acute sense of the possibility of the world 'tuning in' transforming them from 'students in the classroom' to 'dialogue partners in a studio'.
  • Participants in the hot seats inside the dialogue room might experience and reflect on how their session and the things discussed might be of relevance to participants outside the classroom, having the potential of making them realise that what they know, how they think and what they talk about might be interesting and valuable for others than themselves.
  • Students in the cold seats outside the dialogue room that might for different reasons be unable to participate directly in the online lesson can still follow it on the side and dipping in and out if needed. They might be home sick or with sick children, they might be traveling or abroad, or they might be at work listening to the lesson as you would listen to a podcast or live sports transmission.
  • Spectators in the cold seats outside the dialogue room that might be interested in the dialogue, subject or course can follow it without disrupting the lesson. By opening up the classroom to online spectators knowledge inside the classroom can be shared freely with the world, people otherwise unable to pay for courses or take an education can be invited in, or people that just want to brush up their knowledge or gain insight into specific subjects or areas can follow the online dialogues on this.
  • Participants from hot seats talking and working together with participants from cold seats can create connections and dialogues outside the classroom during the lessons. They can collaborate with the world on writing things together or invite them to join the dialogue and in that way gain new perspectives, insights and get the dialogue connected to different contexts, sites, professions and areas in the world. These connections and dialogues might even continue after the lesson and outside the classroom. In this way, the classroom and the students gets connected to the surrounding world and enters into dialogue by way of establishing and scaffolding multi-layered dialogues with society and the world.
  • Participants  from the cold seats talking and working together with people from the hot seats can join in and participate inside the classroom during the lessons. They can contribute to the teaching and learning going on, present alternative viewpoints, deliver key insights and inspiration from other contexts and broaden and deepen the conversation through adding their voice to the dialogue. In this way, the cold seat participants become part of the classroom as 'cold seat students' connected to the knowledge, teaching and learning taking place inside the classroom and amongst the students.


Reflection points

  • How would you like to scaffold and support playful online dialogue with or between your students through the practice of dialogic pedagogy? What would in your opinion be the three key points to pay attention to?
  • How could Laurillards' tips on teaching through discussion support your planning and carrying out of playful online dialogue? What will be of particular importance for you to enhance the chance of the playful online dialogue to work and succeed?
  • What pedagogical setup do you find most interesting or to have the substantial potentials and possibilities in relation to how you would like to facilitate and explore playful online dialogues in your own teaching?