Using Online Discussion Boards to Enhance Learning in Your Class

screenshot of sample GoPost discussion board

screen­shot of sam­ple GoPost dis­cus­sion board

If you are an instruc­tor want­ing to engage your stu­dents using an online dis­cus­sion board (GoPost if you’re using Cat­a­lyst Tools), you may have ques­tions about ben­e­fits and best practices.

The ben­e­fits of using an online dis­cus­sion board for your class are numer­ous. Some key advan­tages include:

  • Builds con­nec­tions and class com­mu­nity by pro­mot­ing dis­cus­sion on course top­ics and more infor­mal discussion
  • Con­tributes to the devel­op­ment of cog­ni­tive, crit­i­cal think­ing, and writ­ing skills
  • Allows time for thought­ful, in-depth reflec­tion on course top­ics. Much like tra­di­tional writ­ing exer­cises, stu­dents have more time to think about, research, and com­pose their thoughts before con­tribut­ing to the discussion.
  • Facil­i­tates exploratory learn­ing by allow­ing stu­dents to review and respond to the work of oth­ers and approach learn­ing in diverse ways
  • Empow­ers stu­dents to express them­selves. For stu­dents with dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles, an online dis­cus­sion board can be a venue where they feel more com­fort­able con­tribut­ing to group dis­cus­sions.  With pos­i­tive rein­force­ment from inter­ac­tions on the dis­cus­sion board, an increase in in-class par­tic­i­pa­tion may also occur.

Best Prac­tices

Becom­ing informed about best prac­tices will help make you and your stu­dents’ expe­ri­ence with the dis­cus­sion board a reward­ing expe­ri­ence and one that con­tributes effec­tively to learn­ing. Here are some quick tips:

  • Estab­lish and com­mu­ni­cate dis­cus­sion board ground rules. What are your expec­ta­tions for writ­ing styles in the online forum?  Are stu­dents expected to adhere to gen­eral rules of neti­quette or does any­thing go?  Includ­ing an intro­duc­tory post that out­lines your expec­ta­tions for stu­dents will ben­e­fit you and your students.
  • Deter­mine and com­mu­ni­cate how you will eval­u­ate stu­dents’ par­tic­i­pa­tion. Stu­dents must know how their con­tri­bu­tions will be assessed in order to make effec­tive responses; oth­er­wise, they may mis­un­der­stand your direc­tions or become unsure of what is expected of them – lead­ing to a frus­trat­ing and inef­fec­tive learn­ing expe­ri­ence.  
    • What are your guide­lines for giv­ing stu­dents credit for dis­cus­sion board par­tic­i­pa­tion? Do they need to post a cer­tain num­ber of times?  How often? Any spe­cific length? Is there infor­ma­tion they should include or ref­er­ence? What are your spe­cific eval­u­a­tion criteria?
    • Encour­age stu­dents to con­tact you if they don’t under­stand the assign­ment or are hav­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties with the board.
  • Engage your stu­dents by ask­ing good ques­tions to get dis­cus­sions going. Use open-ended ques­tions and ques­tions that chal­lenge think­ing. In-depth guide­lines for writ­ing good dis­cus­sion prompts are included in the Addi­tional Resources sec­tion below.
  • To encour­age infor­mal inter­ac­tion and con­nec­tion amongst your stu­dents, cre­ate an area in your dis­cus­sion board for per­sonal intro­duc­tions and dis­cus­sions.  Your stu­dents may learn more about their peers than they would in the class­room — open­ing new doors of con­nec­tion and community.

Addi­tional Resources

For more tips and best prac­tices, the fol­low­ing resources pro­vide sound, well-researched guide­lines for facil­i­tat­ing dis­cus­sion boards to enhance learning:

Here at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton, the Cen­ter for Instruc­tional Devel­op­ment and Research (CIDR) pro­vides resources and infor­ma­tion to fac­ulty on these top­ics as well.  See Dis­cus­sion Resources for infor­ma­tion specif­i­cally rel­e­vant to facil­i­tat­ing dis­cus­sion – both in class and online.

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