Discussion forums provide students a place to have multiple discussions online regarding course reading and assignments, to respond to questions and thoughts posted by other students, and to engage with the material and with each other outside of the classroom. Using a platform of your preference for online discussions, students can build a learning community around discussion topics, participate at their own pace, allow different types of student learners to contribute, and increase individual student learning. Additionally, students who might feel inhibited from voicing their opinion in class can benefit from a discussion forum by being able to express their ideas in a written format. These topics can be instructor- and student-led.
Instructors should be prepared to spend time participating in these forums if they expect meaningful discussion from students.
It can be daunting to set up your online form, and tough to reach the level of discourse you want. But by following these best practices, you can achieve great results.
Explain to your students how you expect them to participate in discussion boards, including deadlines and grading rubric. What is the purpose of your discussion forum, and how will students benefit from it?
For example, you may ask students to “read a course-related article that provokes multiple perspectives” (Bean, 2011, p. 129), or to respond to a topic of confusion that came up in the lecture or session.
Examples from Bean's book Engaging Ideas:
Studies show that instructors who constantly post responses limit the amount of student participation (Mazzolini & Maddison, 2007). So facilitate discussions only selectively:
Do you have an experience to share about online discussion forums? A question for the author? Comment below.
Tiffany Lieuw is an Academic Technology Specialist with Stanford Introductory Studies.
Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: A Wiley Imprint, 2011. Print.
Mazzolini, M., Maddison, S., (2007). When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49, 193-213.
Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B., Craner, J., Duffy, T., Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses, 14 July 2014. <http://www.technologysource.org/article/274/?utm_content=buffere64be&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer>