Facilitating Online Discussion Boards

Facilitating Online Discussion Boards

What?

Online discussions are a common way to encourage students to engage with one another and faculty about material. Typically, within a particular module or unit, the instructor creates a discussion forum that features an open-ended question regarding interpretation or application of a course concept or an example and asks all students to reply to the question. Students can also be asked to respond to a certain number of their classmates' posts.

While online discussions commonly take the form of textual discussion on D2L discussion boards, you may also consider placing students in small groups to have remote discussions though video via such platforms as Zoom, Google Hangout, or Skype.

Why?

Benefits of online discussion boards include

  • Provides a low stakes way to assess student learning
  • Creates an asynchronous space for students to interact with you and with one another regarding material

Suggestions for Facilitating Discussion Boards

Regardless of the format, some guiding principles still apply for creating effective discussion prompts and responses.

The Distance Learning Remote Resources page include resources on creating an online discussion in D2L. Below are more conceptual suggestions.

Think About the Types of Responses That You'd Like Students to Post

  • First, make sure that a discussion board is actually what you want. Discussions are best suited for relatively short responses. If you would like students to post responses of several paragraphs, consider instead creating a Google Doc for students to contribute to. This wouldn't allow for as much back and forth discussion but is a good option for compiling several long posts into a single space, like a wiki.
  • Asks questions that you care about and are generally interested in seeing the answer to. That may seem obvious, but expect that you’ll be reading all of the posts. Do yourself a favor so that you can maintain your own engagement.
  • Avoid prompt questions with single answers. Ask questions that require interpretation, evidence for support, and application.
  • Consider giving students options for the medium that like to use to post to the discussion board: textual posts, audio or video recordings, or images of diagrams or drawings.

Communicate Expectations and Lead by Example

  • Communicate clear expectations: number and length of posts and replies; if you are asking students to include their own discussion questions or only responses; if students should use textual examples, and if so, how many per post.
  • For textual discussion boards, provide examples of effective posts and model the type of communication you’d like to see when you make a post yourself.
  • Clarify your role in the discussion: will you be responding to each post?

Create Discussion Boards for Technical Assistance and Social Interaction As Well

In addition to creating discussion boards within modules that engage students regarding course content, it is very useful to create general course discussion forums dedicated to 1) students asking technical questions 2) providing a place for students to interact on non-course related topics.

For a discussion forum on technical questions, you need not have all of the answers, but it will be helpful to learn what aspects of online learning students consistently struggle with. For continuing and building class community, a discussion forum titled "Social Space" or something similar can be a helpful strategy to work against the isolation that comes with remote learning.

Like with a "Technical Questions," forum, faculty would not be expected to have all of the answers or respond to every post. The point is instead to provide an opportunity for students to continue community building.