The primary means by which students interact and discuss online is through asynchronous online discussion forums. Students can post well-thought out responses to a prompt or question posed by the instructor and other students can reply to these responses/discussion threads. If online discussion forums will be used to replace face-to-face discussions, make sure that students know that and provide clear guidance and expectations for how to participate to help with their transition. Although these online discussions lack the spontaneous organic discussion that occurs in face-to-face classes, they can still be rich conversations and interactions with the advantage of having students think through their responses to questions and replies to other student responses. Additionally, all students typically have to participate in these graded online discussion forums, so there is no hiding in the back of the class and avoiding participation.

Tutorial for setting up online discussion forums in Brightspace/D2L

Tips and Strategies

To maximize online discussion forums, follow these tips and strategies:

Clear Expectations and Criteria Needed

Establish clear expectations and criteria for participation in the online discussions in terms of what counts as a deeper, substantive response as well as for replies to other student’s responses. Grade on quality of posts versus quantity of posts, i.e. you will only grade the first three posts so make them count. Students may post superficial comments without much substance such as “I agree” or “good post” if there are no clear criteria for what counts as a substantive response or interaction. A grading rubric with clear criteria and examples of the types of online discussion posts that meet or do not meet your criteria can help guide students. Based on research, online discussions typically need to be worth 15-20% of the final grade for students to fully participate and put forth more effort. 

Large Enrollment Courses

Online discussion boards may be not be well-suited to courses with high numbers of students as it may be difficult to follow all the postings for both the instructor and students. Breaking the students up into discussion groups can help with a high number of students.

Facilitating Online Discussions

It can be counterproductive to respond to every student’s posts and creates a lot of work for the instructor. Providing students with time to explore the topic on their own and learn from each other’s ideas is more effective. Instead, monitor the discussions and intervene if they go off track or there are inappropriate comments. It can be more effective and efficient for the instructor to post a summary of the discussion at the end, highlighting key themes, good student posts and ideas, close any gaps in knowledge, and correct any misconceptions. Provide feedback early to all students to affirm or correct their posts and participation.

Question/Prompt Design

Create open-ended questions, problems or tasks for students to answer, solve or complete with multiple approaches or perspectives. Questions that target the application, analysis and synthesis of higher-order thinking levels from Bloom’s Taxonomy will be more engaging and generate more discussion. Add variety to the online discussion forums with real-world cases for students to analyze, scenarios to work through, analyzing data sets and arguments, scavenger hunts to find examples of concepts, and role-playing exercises. Note that online discussion forums are dynamic in that students can post images, web links and documents, and they can be used to conduct peer review of student work.

Timing/Due Dates

Stagger due dates for initial responses to prompts or questions and replies to other student’s posts, i.e. initial responses due on Tuesdays and replies to other student’s posts due on Fridays. This will help prevent students from waiting until the last minute to post to the discussion forums, which can lead to minimal interaction or discussion. Although there is no way to have two separate due dates in the Brightspace/D2L discussion forum tool, these staggered due dates can be built into the grading scheme. Keep due dates across online discussions consistent as much as possible.