Tips for Engaging in Online Discussion Boards

Photo of a teacher talking to a class of online students.

We’ve heard all of the complaints about discussion boards. We’re in online classrooms with students daily and understand the struggle to encourage students to participate and discuss. “Faculty often complain that discussions don’t work. Don’t blame the tool! Discussions can be the heart of the online student experience when written to facilitate communication, connection, and shared experiences,” says The Babb Group’s COO, Sheila Fry. Fry has been teaching online for over 20 years.

Fry and I recently discussed discussion questions on the DigitalEDU Dialogues podcast. We shared our best practices for discussions that we use as faculty and instructional designers. We share these insights so you and your students can use this powerful tool to connect, share, collaborate, and, yes, discuss.

The Right Questions for Facilitating the Exchange of Ideas

Unlike formal assessments, discussions should allow students to freely explore their ideas without the pressure of meeting specific word counts or providing extensive citations. “If you want students to discuss instead of regurgitate facts or provide a correct answer, you need a well-written, open-ended question, and faculty facilitation,” says Fry.

Effective online discussions start with thoughtfully constructed questions that encourage critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Give students open-ended questions where they need to dive into the topic, reflect on personal experiences, and explore various perspectives. Fry suggests, “Think about how you ask questions and facilitate a discussion in a face-to-face setting. You know, asking a question with one or two correct answers does not inspire an ongoing conversation. Give students prompts that lead them to talk to one another.” Fry uses the discussion board to build community between students and shares her experiences from the real world in the discussion board, too.

Use the Rubric to Discourage “Post and Go”

Many students are used to logging in, completing their posts and replies, and then checking the box for the weekly discussion. Fry suggests using the rubric to enforce participation more than once a week. She says she likes to use “A type of rubric that assesses the participation in a holistic manner where it rewards frequency, where it rewards the value of what you’re doing. It’s not that you made a verbose 500-word statement and answered this question. Did you further the discussion? Did you engage with students?” Fry provides examples by starting the discussions some weeks and encouraging students to focus on the quality of their contributions.

Embrace Brevity

Think about how you discuss in face-to-face environments. No one wants to listen to the person who drones on and on. Approach online discussions in the same way. Encourage students to express their thoughts succinctly, focusing on the core of their ideas. This approach makes interactions more digestible and encourages more students to participate.

Engage, but Not with Everyone

Just as you wouldn’t go student-to-student in a face-to-face class, resist the temptation to respond to every student’s post in the online discussion board. However, we encourage welcoming each student if you have an introduction discussion thread. Instead, take on the role of a facilitator, highlighting exceptional points to the whole class or a group of students, asking thought-provoking questions, and guiding the conversation’s overall direction. Create a list or spreadsheet of who you interact with weekly to ensure you reply to each student throughout the semester.

Save Citations for Assessments

Save the formal citations and scholarly rigor for assignments and assessments. In the discussion board, let students explore their ideas without feeling constrained by the need to provide extensive references. Encourage them to draw upon personal experiences, course materials, and general knowledge to enrich the conversation.

Take advantage of the discussion board for collaboration, exploration, and experimentation. By encouraging informal interactions and fostering a supportive environment, we can empower our students to express themselves freely while enriching their learning experiences.

Let’s embrace the potential of online education and make our discussion boards a dynamic hub for students.

The following two tabs change content below.

Angela Britcher

Angela Britcher is an instructional designer and content creator with The Babb Group. She is also an adjunct professor of business and communications.
Exit mobile version