Asynchronous Online Debates 

Asynchronous online debates can support students in learning core concepts and reinforce the development of communication skills, teamwork skills, and critical thinkingAsynchronous online debates can provide opportunities for learners to reflect on topics over time, providing space to develop their understanding 

Suggested Debate Activity Set-up for an online course: 

  1. Break all of the students into small teams of 3-4then assign the teams into one of three groups: Pro/AffirmativeCon/Negative, and the Debate Judges (you can present one topic to debate or a variety of debate topics for the different teams) 

  1. Provide a topic statement to debate, for example: be it resolved that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity”  

  1. Provide research time for the teams to reflect on the resolution and to prepare for the debate – this could be over a period of weeks depending on the depth expected (Note: The judging team could be identifying criteria they will use to judge the statements)  

  1. Set-up a discussion forum, or more than one if there are multiple teams debating different topics 

  1. Layout discussion forum expectations for etiquette in the space, for example; level of formality, use of slang and emoticons, gifs etc., and behaviour expectations – being courteous and respectful etc. 

  1. Set up a timeframe for the debate – what time will the discussion open? how long will the debate last forFor example: The discussion forums will remain open until June 12 at 11:59 p.m.”  

  1. The debate opens with a member of the affirmative team presenting their arguments followed by a member of the opposing team. This pattern is repeated for each team member 

  1. Once every team member has had a chance to weigh in, you can provide time for a “scrum” where all team members can banter and counter debate points  

  1. Judges should be taking notes as the debate proceeds and given time post-debate to meet with their team, reflect and provide an overall summary and final decision on who has presented the strongest points (can be done on a later date on the same forum) Once the judges have provided their thoughts on the forum, it could be opened up for questions, discussion and general feedback from the instructor  

  1. Instructors should closely monitor the conversations while the debate period is open and address any behaviours or etiquette issues swiftly.  

  1. Provide a rubric for the debate (if it is being assessed) and clarify the deliverables and expectations Sample Debate Rubrics and Resources (Purdue University, 2018) 

  1. All teams including the judges should cite any external references during the debate and provide formal references once the discussion has closed. You may want to incorporate a reflective paper after the debate and include it in the marking structure  

  1. Instructors can grade team achievement as a group mark or as individual posts. Teamcan assess each other with peer review 


Creating the Debate in Moodle 

An asynchronous online debate can easily be created and managed within a course Moodle site using “forums.” Single simple discussion” forum would work well as a debate platform as it hosts only one topic which is started by the instructor, and is best suited for short-term, focused conversations.  

Learn how to select this type of forum in Moodle here: 

Instructors can consider having several groups, or teams of students debating separate topics. Here are instructions for creating groups in Moodle: 

Considerations for Creating Asynchronous Online Debates 


  • How will you foster student engagement? Is the debate being assessed?  

  • How does it support the course learning outcomes  

  • Does the debate topic require responses that help develop critical thinking? 

  • Will learners have an option owhich side they will argue? 

Preparing Students for the Debate 


  • Encourage students to state their points succinctly 

  • Encourage students to be attentive to the posts and respond accordingly  

  • Encourage students to be objective and not to take it personally 



By closely monitoring the conversations that arise, instructors can moderate the debate(s) by asking questions and nurturing the ongoing discussions.  


© 2018 Purdue University. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. Written by the Learning Design and Technology Program at Purdue University Designed by Daniela Castellanos Reyes