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Online discussion boards are one of the most commonly used activities when it comes to facilitating student engagement in an online environment. There are many benefits of using discussion boards. They allow time for in-depth reflection and research. They create a community of learning by allowing students to view and respond to other students’ work. They foster students' critical thinking by challenging them to think about the questions and analyze responses from their peers.

Design Online Discussions

Writing effective discussion questions and setting clear expectations are the keys of designing effective discussions. An effective discussion question is open-ended which requires exploration and deliberation. There is no right or wrong answer. It is not a question that can be answered with just yes or no. It invites multiple perspectives and aligns with specific learning objectives and course content. Discussions can also be used for discussing cases or debates. For classes with large enrollments, you can split students into smaller discussion groups. Below are some examples of effective and ineffective discussion questions:

Effective Discussion Questions Examples Ineffective Discussion Questions Examples
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using social media. Define linear regression.
Give your own example about how you can apply Universal Design for Learning to the teaching practice. Did the author explain his political views in his article?
From your perspective what are some of the punishment discourses that shape the conversation today about juvenile corrections? Explain your answer. Summarize the author’s two main concepts in chapter 1.

When setting up expectations for participating in online discussions, you need to be specific about the length and number of posts, formatting (text, video, image, audio, etc.), deadline for initial posts, and the deadline for response to other students. The expectations for a substantive discussion post or reply need to be clearly stated as well. For example, does “I agree” or “I like your answer” count as an acceptable reply? What kind of replies are not acceptable? If the discussion is graded, providing specific grading criteria such as a rubric would help students to better understand your requirements and point them to the right direction.

Facilitate Online Discussions

What is the instructor’s role in facilitating online discussions? First, you should always observe and monitor the discussion. If students post inappropriate information, intervene immediately. If you notice some students have not been adequately participating in the discussion, send reminder emails to them individually to encourage their participation. Besides observation, you can also participate in the discussions and post your comments when needed. You can ask students to clarify comments they have made or expand on certain ideas. You can correct students’ misconceptions and misunderstandings and provide guidance if they appear to be struggling to understand some learning materials. When the discussion has ended, you can post a summary of the discussion to highlight good discussion posts and provide a sense of closure.

Build Discussions in Canvas

Canvas allows instructors to create discussions and add rubrics to graded discussions. Below are resources from Canvas that illustrate the building process for discussions and rubrics. For additional help, contact UAB eLearning to schedule a one-on-one training session.

If you would like to work with an instructional designer in eLearning to develop your discussions, please submit an Instructional Design Request form.


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