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ChatGPT vs. UD Faculty - Who Writes the Best Prompts?

By Paul Dagnall

Before we get into why this was an excellent use of tuition or donor dollars, let’s set some background context.

Ask just about any student that has taken an asynchronous online course what they like least about online learning, and they’ll tell you: discussion forums. So each year in the E-Learning Fellows faculty development program, instructors divide into three teams and collaborate to create engaging discussion forum prompts that students would actually want to participate in.

We then take the three prompts the teams created and give them to a group of students to critique and rank. Whichever team's prompt is chosen as the best gets cupcakes, because we don't mess around

But this time, during the Spring 2023 cohort, we were sneaky and gave the students four prompts to evaluate, not just three. The fourth, as you’ve already guessed, was written by ChatGPT. 

So who won?

The top faculty team won by a wide margin. ChatGPT finished in last place but was dangerously close to third. 

UD faculty for the win! 


Back to the purpose. If discussions are perceived as the least valuable part of online courses, what if we can adjust the prompts so students both like them and benefit from them? That’s what we coach instructors to do in the E-Learning Fellows Program. 

Tips and Ideas for Creating Effective Online Discussion Prompts

Here are some tips and ideas for creating engaging online discussion prompts that actually help students learn*:

  1. The prompt should not have a single answer. If it could be an assignment, it should not be a discussion prompt.
  2. There should be a natural benefit for the peer-to-peer idea exchange.
  3. The prompt could be divisive, spurring discussion based on differing viewpoints.
  4. The prompt could be convergent, requiring multiple perspectives to fully be answered.
  5. Consider requiring video posts.
  6. Use role plays and have the students act within assigned roles for a scenario. For example, one student is the finance director, another is in marketing, etc. 
  7. Give students a menu of options to respond to so they can choose what interests them.
  8. Use discussions to allow students to help each other on difficult assignments.

* ChatGPT did not make this list.

If you would like assistance or another set of eyes on your discussion prompts, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Center for Online Learning. 

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