Leonne, your comment..
>>Sometimes, I think discussions are a way to keep the students busy while the teacher is doing something else either within or outside the course
... gave me a good chuckle -- you are SOOO right!!! I have indeed been a student in online courses where the "discussions" felt more like being sent out to amuse myself during recess.
I guess the big question is: do you think the students are actually learning something from the discussion? If not ... WHY require it at all?