Facilitating Rich Discussion Board Participation

Discussion Board ParticipationOn Tuesday, May 27, 2014, Touro College held a webinar for online faculty and administration as part of a series of webinars for professional development of online faculty. On the webinar, Dr. Gail Bell-Baptiste, Chair of the NYSCAS Education Department, shared tips and tricks for facilitating rich discussion board participation.

Below is a list of discussion board tips mentioned on the webinar. Some of these tips were contributed by the faculty members participating in the webinar.

Requirements & Guidelines for Students Posts

  • Provide clear guidelines in your class rubric, outlining how often you expect students to post on the discussion boards, and what kind of posts they should add. For example, you may want to require students to respond to 2 of their classmates’ posts each week, as well as adding at least 1 post with their own individual thoughts to the discussion.
  • Explain to students what you consider a “substantive reply” in discussion board posts. (This will avoid the problem of students merely responding to their classmates’ posts with “I agree.”)
  • Consider providing options and flexibility in your requirements for discussion board participation. For example, you may require students to post 2x per week, but they can have the option of answering a focus question, sharing a resource, or posting a short-answer quiz or puzzle.
  • In your guidelines, you may want to require students to log on to the discussion board at least twice a week, so that they will check back and respond to their classmates’ posts.
  • Encourage students to add supporting evidence and research to the opinions that they post on the discussion boards. Also encourage them to discuss alternate points of view.
  • Encourage students to use their classmates’ names when responding to posts (and remind them when they forget). Using classmates’ names makes the discussion board feel more personal, and also makes the back-and-forth discussion easier to follow.
  • Consider enforcing a deadline for discussion board posts – for example, you may require students to add 2 posts by the end of each week.

Encouraging Discussion Board Participation

  • Use your weekly announcements as an opportunity to encourage and nudge students to participate in discussion boards. Applaud them when they do have rich conversations, and highlight any posts or comments from the previous week that were exceptional.
  • As the professor, you should partake in the discussion board on a regular basis. Respond to students’ posts, acknowledge good points, or add observations, new perspectives, or additional questions.

Types of Discussion Board Topics

  • Ask focus questions that are related to the big picture ideas that students are learning about during that week. Do not ask “yes or no” questions – make sure your questions stimulate students to think, analyze, discuss, and share their unique opinions and perspectives.
  • Encourage critical thinking by asking students to “RRR” – react, respond, and reflect on what they learned. Students should not just regurgitate their learning; your discussion board focus questions should ask them to think about the information and discuss how they plan to apply it to real life situations.
  • If you are teaching a math or science course, consider using the discussion board to ask students how they would apply the math or science concepts to real world applications. This will help concretize the concepts and help students understand how they are relevant to everyday life.
  • Encourage students to find useful resources related to the course material and share these resources with their classmates. Resources may include videos, news articles, or links. Students are very adept at finding relevant and current online resources. You can even use save these resources and use them when you teach the same course in future semesters.
  • Use the discussion board as a place where students can share their presentations and projects with each other. You may want to require students to respond to at least 2 of their classmates’ presentations. This is similar to how in a regular classroom, a student will present their project and classmates provide feedback.
  • Realize that in the first week of school, students might not yet have their textbook. During that first week, ask them a general question that they can answer without needing to reference the textbook, or ask them to do individual research on topics related to the course.

In conclusion, much can be done to facilitate rich discussion board participation. By providing clear discussion board guidelines and requirements, encouraging your students on a regular basis, and wisely choosing the topics for your discussion boards, you will enjoy watching rich activity and interactive discussions in your online course.

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