Digital Powerups! Reinvigorating Student’s Online Discussion with Dr. Thurston

Digital Powerups! Reinvigorating Student’s Online Discussion with Dr. Thurston

Returning from our holiday break, we are excited to learn from Dr. Travis Thurston about digital powerups. Dr. Thurston is the Assistant Director of Empowering Teaching Excellence at Utah State University and a Visiting Professor at Universidad Casa Grande. He has been an educator for 11 years, beginning as a high school history and physical education teacher, and now as a visiting professor of digital-age education.

In his role at Utah State University Dr. Thurston combines his teaching expertise and research on education to lead instructional development programming to improve teaching and student success across the USU statewide system. He structures the many learning communities in an architecture of engagement using microcredentials to scaffold the process of critical pedagogical self-reflection among participants.

Dr. Thurston’s experience as an instructional designer has allowed him to disseminate his favorite teaching strategies, and adapt them for implementation in a variety of courses across disciplines. He explains: “I originally learned about the digital powerups strategy as I was preparing to teach a course on diverse learning strategies to a group of graduate students who were K–12 in-service teachers. Given the population of students, and the topic of the course I decided that rather than just share this strategy with my students I would adapt it for my course and we would try it out. Enter digital powerups.”

Using backwards design to align course outcomes with learning activities, Dr. Thurston strives to identify authentic ways to engage students using technology in face-to-face, blended, and online format courses. He says: “Simply stated, digital powerups are keywords from Bloom’s taxonomy that are displayed as hashtags and associated with corresponding prompts in online discussions. The digital powerups strategy is theoretically grounded in the dynamic interplay between social presence and cognitive presence in the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. At its core, CoI requires social interaction or the co-construction of knowledge which must be centered in a learning environment that encourages discourse and community building as a means of engaging students in an educational experience. Specifically, the digital powerups strategy was designed to empower students with both choice and voice which is an effective way to engage students in course activities.”

“In this fully online graduate level course the digital powerups strategy was incorporated into the weekly online discussions. Each week students were given a set of readings to engage with beforehand, and then rather than being given a specific question to address, students were rather provided with a prompt to allow them to engage from different entry points. For each discussion forum, students were instructed that their initial post should include 2–3 powerups and their comments to peers should include 1–2 powerups as well. In other words, students were giving the option to address the weekly prompt using 2–3 of the available digital powerups.”

“Students were further instructed that utilizing the digital powerups not only helps to structure the responses, but they will frame ways to engage in meaningful discourse allowing them to learn from one another. It is important with this strategy to be very explicit in the instructions and the intentionality behind their use. Students were further instructed that typically it takes at least 2 or 3 sentences to properly address each of the powerups selected (or a 2–3 minute video recording).”



Develop a novel response based on what you read using text, video or other supplies to innovate.

To get a more indepth full list of  powerups, sample posts and additional resources you can visit the website created by Dr. Thurston HERE. You can reach Dr. Thurston on Twitter @travesty328 or by email Dr. Thurston has also authored and co-authored two helpful publications that he would like to share with Progressive Pedagogy readers:

Thurston, T. N. (2018). Design case: Implementing gamification with ARCS to engage digital natives. Journal on Empowering Teaching Excellence, 2(1), 5.

Thurston, T. N., & Schneider, K. (2019). Structuring Personalized Faculty Development Programming with Autonomy-Support and Microcredentials. In A. Elçi, L. Beith, & A. Elçi (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Faculty Development for Digital Teaching and Learning. Hershey, PA: IGI Global Publishing.

Featured photo via Dr. Travis Thurston.