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Developing Successful Online Discussions

Issue Date: 06-03-2016

The discussion board is a tool for sharing thoughts and ideas about course related topics. Depending on how you set up your course, you access the discussion board from either the course menu or a course area, such as a content area, learning module, lesson plan, or folder. The main Discussion Board page displays a list of available discussion forums. A forum is an area where users discuss a topic or a group of related topics. Within each forum, users can create multiple threads. A thread includes the initial post and any replies to it. The discussion board is most commonly used in these ways:

  • Instructors post course related questions or materials to promote discussion. Students respond to the content the instructor posts as well as to their classmates reactions.
  • Instructors set up forums for group collaboration.
  • Hybrid class instructors may use the discussion board for students to post reading responses to material needing to be reviewed prior to class

Suggestions for Forum Settings
Forum settings allow you to use the discussion board in different ways. For example, to fully control a forum, you create all threads, moderate, and grade the posts. For a student-led discussion, allow students to create new threads and posts anonymously. The following table includes some of the ways you can control the behavior of forums in a discussion board:


Here are some tips for developing successful online discussions in your courses:

  • Clearly state expectations. It is suggested that you define requirements in the Syllabus as well as create a forum where students can read and ask questions about etiquette and grading. This helps students understand what you expect from them in each of their postings.
  • Create a Rubric for your discussion board. Having a rubric for your discussion board requirements helps students understand where they did well and where they need to improve.
  • Encourage collaboration in welcome announcements/emails. Remind students that discussions will only be as good as participants make them.
  • Ask students to post an introduction. This allows students to get to know each other. You can encourage students to aske ach other questions pertaining to their experiences in later discussions.
  • Recommend students post early in the week. You may want to consider setting a due date for initial posts and then another due date for responses to classmate. This will promote follow up questions and initiate a deeper discussion. 
  • Encourage students to share a personal experience in every response so that other students can learn from their experiences.
  • Suggest multimedia postings. Students can use other approaches beyond text. This may include audio or video recording, PowerPoint, avatar, or any other media they can come up with.
  • Utilize the content editor. Include pictures, video, or text formatting in your postings for students to respond to. You can propose them to do the same.
  • Moderating discussions. Make students continue to discuss topics by asking them questions or providing additional resources. You may also want to consider having student leaders for particular forums. Students can be assigned to be a leader (moderator) for one or more of the course’s discussions. They could be responsible for asking follow up questions and keeping the discussion alive. Click HERE for a tutorial on how to set up discussion moderators. 
  • Consider offering bonus points for students that have excellent contributions.

Tags: Instructional Design Tips, Course Tools: General Course Tools Tips, Course Tools: Discussion Board, Course Tools

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