Creating Effective Online Discussion Boards

Earlier this week I gave a presentation to our faculty on how to create effective discussion boards online.  I thought that others could benefit from this knowledge, so I am sharing my thoughts here.  These recommendations come from personal experience as a teacher & learner, and from researching the literature.  Many have never tried discussion boards in their courses, or have tried and found the results to be unsatisfactory.  This post can help you plan and create online boards that are more successful for you and your students.

Creating Effective Discussion Boards- 

Recommendations by Paul Iwancio

Why use online discussion boards?

They keep students engaged with the material after class.

They inspire critical thinking.

It gives shy students or ESL students a chance to participate equally.

They allow for hyperlinking to outside resources.

They create gradable items for the course.

They can be low-risk assessments.

They enable  monitoring of learning/comprehension.

They can be tied to readings and research.

Preparation

Consider the purpose of the discussion and how it relates to your learning objectives.

Ask yourself-what do I want the students to be able to do?  What do I want them to understand from the material?

Focus on the most controversial, difficult, and important concepts.

Pose questions that may be provocative and spark critical thinking.

Create questions that are open-ended and elicit divergent thinking from students.

Examples of activities-web field trips, brainstorming, problem-solving, writing groups, case analysis, debates, discussion of course readings, discussion of  live or recorded presentations, research.

Examples of questions that stimulate thinking are found on page 5 of this document from the University of Oregon.

Overall, promote engagement with the material, with peers, and with the teacher.

Management

Post rules of netiquette, create a safe learning environment.

Make participation mandatory-graded with points.

Provide clear expectations to students-quality, quantity, what will be in post, length of post, level of formality, show a rubric, due dates, naming expectations.

In respect to dates, have one deadline for first post, another deadline for first response, and a closing date for the overall discussion.

Tell students how often you will be checking the board.

Assessment can be completed by the teacher and/or student peer assessment.

Encourage students to mention personal experiences, but also cite literature.

Allow posting of links and attachments if relevant.

Encourage responders to pose questions-for clarification, questioning assumptions, looking for rationale and evidence, questioning viewpoints and perspectives, what are implications and consequences?  Posing followup questions keeps a discussion moving.

Let discussion flow on its own without much interference from teacher, but maintain a presence-intervene when needed for clarity or re-tracking if they become stuck, you don’t have to reply to every post.

Followup in the classroom afterwards, ask for “muddy” questions/concepts and clear them up.

Options

Assign roles for each discussion-e.g. researcher, responders, critical friends, fact checkers, reporters/summarizers.

Create a casual, open discussion board for personal news and topical discussions.

Use one board for initial introductions-develop an online community.

Collect exam/quiz questions from discussion boards, possibly have students create the questions.

Breaking into groups may be necessary to manage large classes so that the number of posts doesn’t become overwhelming.

To achieve “critical mass” make sure there are at least 4 to 6 students on each board.

Consider creating a short audio or video recording to introduce the topic/discussion, humor(which doesn’t always come across in text) could even be used here.

Consider using an anonymous posting board occasionally for frank discussions and/or a board where students can anonymously pose questions to the teacher.

Consider using a tool such as Voicethread which allows students to respond in text, audio, or video.

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