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.
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.
For more tips and best practices, the following resources provide sound, well-researched guidelines for facilitating discussion boards to enhance learning:
- Teaching with GoPost (UW Learning & Scholarly Technologies)
- Mastering Online Discussion Board Facilitation: Resource Guide (Edutopia)
- Improving the Use of Discussion Boards (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
- Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions (University of Oregon)
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.