Discussion Boards

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
Blackboard course shells come with a Discussions link in the left menu that is connected to the discussion board tool.

Setting up a discussion board in Blackboard

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.

Creating group discussion boards

Forum vs Threads
Discussion boards are comprised of forums and threads. The forum is the top level of the discussion and it can either be the topic or a group of topics. A thread contains and initial posts and all subsequent replies. As the instructor, you are the only one who can create forums. You can decide if students are able to create threads in the forum settings. Here are a few examples of how you could set up forums or threads in the discussion board:

  • 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.

Create a forum

Create a thread

Creating Discussion Board Prompts
While student participation on discussion boards is influenced by points assigned to the activity, it is shaped by the discussion board prompts. A well-designed prompt will allow for enough responses that students can contribute original content without repeating what other classmates have said. A good rule of thumb when writing a dicussion prompt is that as the expert you should immediately be able to come up with seven different responses to the question. If it is a question where there is only one or two probable responses those may be better as assignments or exam questions. If the prompt is to have the student construct an argument and the purpose of the discussion is a critique of initial responses there is a forum setting where students must make an initial post before seeing classmates’ posts.

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.

Grading online discussions can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of a course. You can optimize your time by reading discussions as a collection, using rubrics, establishing a grading workflow. Consider grading discussions as unacceptable (0%), does not meet expectations (50%), meets expectations (75%), exceeds expectations (100%) or another limited appropriate range for your course. Sometimes it takes too much time to discern and justify the difference between a 8/10 and a 9/10 when limiting grades to 0/10, 5/10, 8/10, and 10/10 would have given students the information they need to improve or continue their contributions to discussions.

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.

Grade discussions



Creating Engagement in the Remote and Hybrid Classroom

Blogs are an effective way to have students engage with course content and with other students in the class. While discussions allow for multiple students to have a voice, blogs are used when the voice of the author is primary and public comments are peripheral rather than central to the activity. Blogs give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in front of their peers which can provide opportunities for students to learn from one another. Students can submit writing, images, or videos on blogs like a Pecha Kucha activity or a pop culture assignment.

Creating Blogs

Grading Blogs



Group Projects
Groupwork helps students develop collaboration skills that will be necessary for success throughout their lives. Just as with in-class groups students will need to define group roles and communication channels to work effectively outside the classroom. One way to encourage more collaboration throughout the project is to help provide a structure for how groups communicate and a level of transparency to discourage the “divide and conquer” approach.

Create and manage groups

Group assignments