Some Best Practices in Using Discussion Boards

The following are best practices in using the discussion drawn from Columbus State faculty experience and distance learning literature.

"Ice Breakers" or Threshold Experience

Participation in a discussion board can be an intimidating activity for some students for a variety of reasons: comfort with the computer self-confidence, perception of the medium as cool or warm, etc. Students will often have to go through a "threshold experience" to move from feeling like they are on the periphery to feeling like they are central to the discussion.

There is no universal solution to triggering this transformation. Having low-threshold but still meaningful activity to orient students to the discussion environment and it conventions can help lay the groundwork for more meaningful interactions later.

Model your expectations

Provide examples of discussion posts that exhibit the qualities you expect from your students. If you participate in the forum, model the expectations with your own posts.

Create an evaluation rubric

If discussions are graded, provide a clear standards that describe contributions that merit high, moderate and low marks.

Clearly define the scope and purpose of the discussion

Focus the topic of conversation in a forum or thread to avoid conversations that drift off base. You may need to intervene to redirect conversation or suggest that a thread be moved to another forum.

Create space for informal conversation

Allow space for personal chat or general questions about the course. Be clear about the degree to which you monitor and respond to this space.

Chunk material into 5 to 9 topics (Cognitive Load Theory)

  • The human mind has limited working memory capacity
  • Novices can hold fewer ideas, experts more

Use informal voice

Be clear about your expectations for writing conventions. Discussion forums are conversational mediums and research shows that use of a conversational voice supports learning. You may accept well-composed but informal language in a forum while requiring other academic conventions elsewhere. Or you may require a certain convention for an initial post but allow a conversational dialogue in discussion of that post.

Use other media as prompts

As online video and photo sharing sites have shown, people respond to media. Use the picture and video embed tools to include media in your forums.