Using online discussion forums can add a whole new dimension to your classroom. Students learn and remember material better when they continue to engage with it and each other between class periods.  Depending on how you choose to set up your forum, however, it can either be a helpful addition or a frustration to both you and your students.

Whether you decide to have each student create their own thread, or create threads to which students can reply, make sure you choose an option that meets your objectives.  Instructor created threads can be useful if you are looking for students to add their observations to topics or questions of the instructor’s choosing. Student created threads on the other hand, are useful in forums where the objective is to have multiple student-directed conversations on a topic. Once you have decided the best layout for a particular assignment, remember to provide your students with instructions that outline exactly how you want them to respond as well as your expectations for their participation.

Participation in a discussion will likely increase if you encourage (or require) students to make their first post by a certain date. Setting due dates and frequency for responses to other students’ post in a forum may also stimulate more activity in early course forums.  If a forum is open for a week, many students may, unfortunately, not look at it until the day before it closes.  If this happens, the discussion quickly turns into a forum full of individual statements with no one interacting with each other.  By telling students to make their first post by a certain day and respond to two classmates before a later date, the amount of time they have to interact with each other’s comments and insights increases.

Frequent posts by the instructor can also stimulate more activity within a discussion forum. However, it is not necessary for the instructor to comment on every student response. Instead an instructor should pepper discussions with feedback and questions that guide the discussion – keeping it active and on topic.

Discussions are a great tool for classrooms if used the right way…don’t let them become a headache for you AND your students!

Click here to review documentation on Blackboard discussions for step by step instructions on creating a Discussion Forum in your UTC Online course.

Whitney Huskey
Gradate Assistant
Walker Teacher Resource Center