Archive for the ‘Discussion Forums’ Category

Creating Effective Discussion Boards

August 27, 2015

This week I’m going to try something a bit different.  Most of my post is in the form of a video screencast (10 minutes).  It’s a subject I talked about years ago but felt it needed some updating as I’ve learned more on the subject.  Recently I gave this presentation at the University of Colorado.  The ppt follows the principles of Presentation Zen with images carrying my message along.  Here is the video:



Here are the resources mentioned in the video:

Creating Discussion Boards in Canvas

Discussion Board Advice from Faculty Focus

Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence

Mastering Online Discussion Boards from Edutopia

Tips for Creating Prompts

Sample Rubrics for Grading Discussion Boards

Jumping In To The MOOC Pool

March 21, 2013

ImageWell, I’ve finally taken the plunge and signed up for a MOOC.  This one is offered by Coursera.  The course is on songwriting and is being taught by Pat Pattison from the Berklee School of Music.  Currently we’re in week 3 of 6 so I feel I can offer some accurate observations on the design of the course, the delivery system and my personal experience.

Here’s what you find inside the course:

Short video lectures that are no longer than 20 minutes long.  Some are as short as 1 and a half minutes in length.  The short length is a good design choice and the videos have embedded quizzes that are interspersed within-another element of good instructional design.  The videos are well produced (probably shot with at least 3 SLR cameras), edited, and have graphics added to illustrate important points. Pat, the teacher delivers the lectures in a personable way with humor, drama, stories and great examples.

Each week has graded quizzes that can be taken repeatedly as the highest mark becomes your final grade for the assessment.

Every week also has an assignment that is turned in online.  Although not called a rubric, detailed expectations for the assignment are given.  These guidelines then become the grading criteria when the assignment moves into its second phase: peer assessment.  You must grade at least 5 peers before you receive feedback on your own submission.

There is also an open social dimension to the course.  Discussion forums are setup for formative feedback on the videos, quizzes, assignments and design of the course. Students can also start their own forums and threads for interest groups, meetups and spinoff discussions.  These areas are quite active on the course page and searchable.

Bottom line, thus far: I’m finding this experience to be rewarding personally for my creative development and professionally as I see the inner workings of a MOOC and how it can be successful.  My advice to you is don’t be afraid to jump in to the MOOC pool.  The water’s fine!

Creating Effective Online Discussion Boards

November 2, 2012

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.


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.


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.


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.