In a regular classroom setting, discussions are generated spontaneously and participation is encouraged naturally by the professor’s verbal or implied feedback – such as eye contact, nodding, and facial expressions of approval or surprise.
When these factors are not present in the context of an online course, professors must devise strategies to motivate all students to participate in the discussion boards.
Here are some tips for boosting participation in your online discussions:
- Ask open-ended questions that don’t just have a yes or no answer.
- If you do ask a question with a yes-or-no answer, require half of the students to support one side of the argument, and the other half to support the other side.
- Include multimedia (such as images, Youtube videos, or infographics) into the starter question to generate more interest in the topic.
- Participate in the discussion yourself, by questioning and commenting on students’ posts.
- Model the type of writing and communication that you would like the students to use. Demonstrate by example whether you want students to post musing thoughts or only post more developed responses.
- Allow students to post anonymously, so that they will be more willing share their true opinions on the topic.
- Allow students to create their own discussion threads.
- Provide grades for the frequency and quality of each student’s participation in the discussion.
- Consider offering extra participation points for students who continue the discussions even after the specified end date.
- When you create your class exams, include questions related to the discussions.
Most importantly, make sure to provide clear guidelines for students as to what you expect them to do on the discussion boards:
- How often do you expect each student to post? One a week? Twice a week? Every day?
- Can students simply agree with what was already said, or do you expect them to generate new ideas with each post?
- Are students required to back up their thoughts and opinions with sources?
- How long should each post be? Is one line enough, or must they post a developed piece consisting of several paragraphs?
- Should the language and writing be formal or informal?
- Is there a specified end date for the discussion, or do you expect the discussion to continue indefinitely?
By providing clear guidelines about what you expect from each student, you will enable your class to generate discussions that hold to higher standards.
- Developing Successful Online Discussions from Blackboard.com
- Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions from the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program.