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Learning the Ins-and-Outs of LMS: Let’s Discuss Discussion Boards

Author: Nicholas Hoekstra

Over a series of blogs, we’re exploring how instructors can take full advantage of features present in their learning management systems (LMS) to support student learning. Our first post reviewed the importance of consistency in the presentation of content. A second entry talked about the utility of accessibility checkers on three popular LMS platforms. Today, we’re discussing discussion boards!

I’ll talk to you later

Whether class is in-person, online, or hybrid, the discussion board can be an excellent way to increase student engagement. For non-traditional adult learners, who spend less time interacting on campus with their peers, the discussion board can be an important source of interaction. These students can read and respond to posts when they find time in their busy schedules. Meanwhile, studies have found that discussion boards provide a safe place where students can post questions and take their time to develop well-thought-out reflections on class topics.

Let’s give them something to talk about

But how can we turn discussion boards from the place where students post a weekly reflection and never look back to a place where lively discussions take place? An article from the Center for Teaching and Learning provides some strategies:

  • If your LMS offers the option, require students to post first in a topic before they can see other student responses. This may help create more variety in original posts;
  • Encourage the use of multimedia posts, such as videos and audio recordings. This is especially great for meeting the Universal Design for Learning guideline for providing multiple means of action and expression;
  • Require students to post rough drafts of projects and encourage peer review.
  • Create small group debates and assign students with specific roles or topics.

It may also help to post a set of discussion board rules. For example:

  • Reply to a thread if you want to add to the discussion, but create a new thread if you are going to introduce a distinct topic;
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation;
  • Keep replies brief (3 paragraphs) to encourage a more fluid discussion;
  • At the same time, don’t just respond with “I agree”; add to the conversation.

For some other ideas, this article provides ten guidelines for discussion board etiquette.

Speak up

The discussion board isn’t only for students. An instructor shouldn’t hesitate to step in and make comments as well.

This article on the Digital Learning Collaborative provides some great suggestions for the instructor’s role in the discussion forum, including

  • Encourage discussion by posting clarifying questions, asking probing questions, and praising student contributions;
  • Monitor discussions to ensure that no students are excluded or ignored;
  • Keep track of any confusions or misunderstandings that need to be further clarified in class.

Tell us your experience

How have you used discussion boards to enrich a course? What strategies have you found useful to encourage real discussion between your students? Visit the CIDDL community page and become part of the conversation!