Discussion forums are one of  the most used platforms for online communication and community development.  A discussion forum is primarily a text-based mode of communication where someone will post a start to a threaded message and people will respond to that thread. Often, many threads can be going at the same time, with longer-lasting discussions. The design and structure of discussions with guidelines or “rules of the road” are a critical part of an online facilitator’s role.

 Your Goals

Week 1
  • Create an introductory discussion 
  • Create encouraging courteous discussions
Week 2

  • Create a divergent question, from your course/assignment learning objectives, that asks learners to explore, and analyze, synthesize or evaluate knowledge, and project, or predict different outcomes.
  • Create an evaluative question, from your course/assignment learning objectives, that asks learners to reflect.
Week 3
  • Create a plan for a peer review discussion.
  • Create a discussion strategy that helps learners meet your course or assignment objectives. 
Week 4
  • Create a strategy for facilitating online discussions 
  • Create a strategy for summarizing discussions.

The Virginia Commonwealth University – Center for Teaching Excellence describes discussion boards as the scene of much of the interaction that occurs between student-to-student and student-to-faculty. It is where the social presence of both faculty and students is most evident.  Typically, a course has some sequencing of units or lessons, either by week or by topics. Discussion forums flow from this organization. To achieve the deeper learning desired in any course, many factors have to be considered in constructing your discussion forums.

Why should I use a discussion board? Online discussions are not unlike those conducted within the traditional, face-to-face classroom, and are often seen as more useful for the distance instructor who does not meet students face-to-face. Even the on-campus instructor may find discussion boards useful, however. A few advantages to using discussion boards include:

  • extending the time allotted for discussions beyond regular class time to allow for in-depth reflection on comments
  • requiring students to move beyond listening to a lecture, stating their thoughts, engaging in well-articulated argumentation and critical reasoning
  • allowing each student to participate and join-in the conversation, rather than one or two outgoing communicators in the classroom
  • providing an outlet for students to pose their questions and receive feedback from not only the instructor, but also other discussion board participants
  • allowing students to reference and bring external sources of information into the conversation (e.g., “according to this web site…”)
  • storing a record or archive of conversations for use by future classes, researchers, others
  • allowing discussions to include perspectives from individuals outside of the original class (i.e., one engineering class at Virginia Tech, one at Purdue, and one at Georgia Tech, all discussing the same topic, perhaps including two or three professionals working in the field)

Chris Weaver from  The Discussion Board Book states that student responses don’t just happen, they are carefully planned for by the instructor to illicit the well formed responses.

Please begin by reviewing this discussion guide. The guide has been designed to provide some practical suggestions. A number of topics have been addressed, including: facilitation tips, content area suggestions, time management strategies and much more.