Online discussion boards provide an opportunity for students to interact with each other and with their instructor, much like in a traditional face to face classroom.

Why use discussion boards?

  • They build community by facilitating open discussion.
  • They allow time for insightful reflection. Students have more time to reflect on the question or prompt, then research and compose a response before participating in the conversation.
  • They allow students to view and respond to the work of their classmates.
  • They facilitate the development of critical thinking and writing skills.
  • They provide opportunities for students to practice and demonstrate multiple skills.
  • They facilitate dynamic conversations with multiple perspectives.
  • They provide a space for low stakes or low-pressure conversation.
  • They allow for an inclusive environment where all voices are heard.
  • They decrease dependence on instructors for a single correct answer.
  • They reinforce course content.

Discussion tools

There are multiple tools you can use to engage your students in discussion-type activities. In addition to the Discussions tool in Blackboard, try using Flip for video discussions.

Expectations for student participation

Just like you would manage in-class discussions, it’s important to manage asynchronous discussions by setting clear expectations.

  • Include a section in your syllabus that outlines acceptable forum or video discussion behavior.
  • Provide clear learning objectives for each topic.
  • Clarify participation expectations, including frequency of posting, length, links and attachments, how participation will affect course grade, and what students are expected to do after participating. Be as specific as possible.

Discussion board best practices

A discussion board is not a “set it and forget it” activity. Consider the following best practices when adding discussions to your online course.

  • Map your discussion to course and module learning objectives.
  • Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy. Start with low level questions & move to higher level questions.
  • Establish group rules or a social contract (netiquette).
  • Use open-ended prompts.
  • Ask follow-up questions.
  • Ask questions that can’t be answered with a quick Google search.
  • Remember that this is a learner-centered activity.
  • Encourage students to generate questions.
  • Use media where appropriate.
  • Use and ask for personal examples.
  • Think about time involved, for both you and your students.
  • Try to give students a choice in topics.
  • Build conversation.
  • Create a safe space to alleviate anxiety.
  • Avoid assumptions.
  • Don’t judge posts immediately.
  • Quality is more important than quantity.
  • Remember that discussions are not a quantitative measure of how much a student has learned.
  • Log on regularly to view discussion boards and get involved as necessary. Be sure you let students know what to expect from you.
  • Assign students to manage a weekly discussion.
  • Wrap up each discussion.

Creative discussion board activities

Discussions can be much more than “post and reply” activities. Here are over 50 ideas to get you started.

  • Role-play
  • Solicit contributions from staff, teaching assistants, and guests
  • Add a forum for things unrelated to class (off-topic discussion) – student lounge, coffee shop
  • FAQ forum
  • Scheduling of group projects
  • Open collaborative exams
  • Peer review
  • Discuss current events
  • Share final projects
  • Share tips for online success
  • To avoid interruption of a presentation, have students ask questions on discussion board in real-time
  • Build social connections
  • Build a story about a character
  • Debate or argue a viewpoint you don’t agree with
  • Use a chain of websites to connect 2 unrelated topics, with as few links as possible. Who has the fewest links?
  • Barometer of understanding – discuss a topic in advance before presenting content (flipped classroom)
  • Introductions – create an avatar with 3 things that represent you
  • Comment on posted media that connects with course content
  • Pitch project ideas
  • Consultations
  • Post videos
  • Research teams
  • Collaborative writing
  • Document sharing
  • Use prompts or questions that enable students to combine their own creativity with the knowledge gained from the topic
  • Use prompts that enable students to use what they already know
  • Discussion carousel – reply to the previously unanswered post, then make a new post
  • Encourage students to edit their own responses to improve them
  • Have students generate ideas on a topic or reading that you address in class
  • What would happen if…?
  • Assign jobs to students (summarize, illustrate, extend, exemplify, etc.)
  • The most interesting thing I learned today
  • Quiz show
  • Provide exam practice questions
  • Set different tasks as new discussions, and students choose which to complete (ex: 3 out of 5)
  • Compare and contrast – half of students post similarities, other half post differences
  • Two students post opposing views, rest of group discusses them
  • Students post their learning problems for others to answer
  • Instructor posts summary of in-class activities
  • Students post photo/video/audio examples of concepts/material
  • Students post photos of in-progress projects to show development
  • Give students a character and situation to react to
  • Debate
  • Respond to each post from the point of view of a particular character from the book you are studying
  • Treasure hunt – post photo or piece of information and students must find out where photo was taken or information was printed
  • Post an audio clip in another language for students to translate
  • Translate each post as a reply
  • Have music students record their own songs and upload them for peer feedback
  • Spot the mistake video (ex: students identify what instructor is doing unsafely in a lab procedure)
  • Pass the buck – first person describes a scientific process, next person replies with a process that is linked
  • Post a prompt and allow replies to be photos only