Discussions give students opportunities to engage with course content through interaction with other students and the instructor. You can increase student participation with clear instructions of the discussion activity that include the purpose of the activity, what constitutes an acceptable post, the expected number of posts, and the expected frequency of posts. Discussions are an appropriate instructional strategy for cognitive objectives that include applying theoretical concepts to practical situations or generating and investigating solutions to problems, and affective objectives such as receiving, responding to, or valuing phenomena. They are also used to help learners structure an argument, see a variety of perspectives on an issue, take a position counter to one that they hold, or wrestle with ambiguity.
During an in-class discussion you probably don’t define what a quality verbal response consists of because you are able to ask for clarification or additional information as a facilitator of the conversation. In the online setting, it is important to establish what students should include in their post so that students have the confidence to respond to the discussion prompt without fear of looking foolish in front of the class. Additionally, you can shape whether the discussion is a back and forth exchange of ideas that builds over time or statements of positions with feedback with requirements for the number and timing of posts. For example, instructions that ask for a substantive post by Thursday with replies to two classmates by Sunday yield a different conversation pattern than instructions that ask students to contribute seven posts on at least four different days throughout the discussion.
Setting Up a Discussion Board
It is a good idea to break students into smaller groups for discussions (see the next session for an example). The discussion board tool in the Groups feature in Blackboard is designed as a communication space for groups when discussing projects. These can be set up as graded discussions, but they will create a large number of columns in your Grade Center. If you do not want groups to see the discussions of other groups, you will need to set up the discussion board tool in groups to keep them private to group members and the instructor.
Forum vs Threads
- class introduction – The forum includes instructions for what information each student should include in their introduction. Each student creates a new thread with an initial post where they introduce themselves to the class. Students reply to the initial post with comments about shared interests or additional questions.
- small group discussions – The forum includes the instructions for the topic of discussion and is the setting to allow students to create threads is not checked. The instructor creates a thread for each group (refer students to the Groups link to see their group number or send students a list of groups and members) and students post replies to participate in the discussion.
- application of a concept – The forum instructions direct students to create a thread and give a real world example of a concept covered in a chapter. Students reply to the initial posts of their classmates with comments that build on the application of the concept.
- exploration of a topic – The instructor establishes the general topic (modes of transportation) for the forum in the decription and creates threads for each subtopic (governmental policies, ethical implications, societal context, etc.) that students could choose to discuss during the unit.
Creating Discussion Board Prompts
If you aren’t requiring students to have their best thought first, you may want to write a prompt that elicits questions from students at the beginning of the discussion and then builds as the students explore the concept. These types of discussions may require more instructor activity on the discussion board to help guide the students depending on the class level and content. There is a delicate balance when it comes to instructor participation. Some instructor participation shows your engagement and motivates students because they know you are watching. You can also help stalled discussions by asking probing questions or bringing up points the students may not have considered. However, sometimes if an instructor makes a statement to provide clarification or provide additional information students sometimes view the instructor input as “the right answer” and the discussion comes to a halt.
If you are not participating in the discussions, it is a good idea to skim the posts throughout the discussion to watch out for any conflict you may need to help mediate or for discussions that veer off topic. You can use course announcements to let students know that you are reading the discussion by summarizing the conversation so far, pointing out examples of excellent student posts or interesting threads, and reminding students of the participation expectations.
Search and collect discussion threads – When you grade discussions you will see every post a student made, but sometimes it is easier to read through the entire discussion in context. You can print these or save them as a pdf to open on a different screen than where you are grading.
Creating Engagement in the Remote and Hybrid Classroom