Discussion Boards

Voting and Polling

Minority Views: Have students vote on issues before class and then pull out the minority views at the start of class before the majority opinion dominates (tools like SiteScape Forum and eGroups have polling and/or voting tools).

Class Decisions: Use voting and polling tools to make important or interesting class diecisions. This provides students with a voice or choice within the class (Other Online Learning Pedagogical Ideas: Bonk, 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Herrington & Oliver, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).


Reading Reactions as Debates with Free Choice: Assign a set number of articles to read, but student reactions on one or more of these must be in the form of a debate.

Reading Reactions in Teams: Assign students to read a particular article or set of articles and also assign pro and con sides of a debate on such reading(s) (Online Reading and Writing Techniques: Bonk, 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Starter-Wrapper (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000)

Starter-Wrapper Conventional: Starter reads ahead and starts discussion and wrapper (and perhaps the teacher) summarizes what was discussed; others participate.

Starter-Wrapper with Roles: Same as #1 but include roles for other participants (optimist, pessimist, devil's advocate, coach, questioner, mediator, connector, commentator, bloodletter, etc.)

International Starter-Wrapper: Such discussion occurs with students from other countries and classrooms. Each site alternates starting and wrapping the weekly discussion. Perhaps pair the students at remote sites for starter and wrapper roles.

Article Discussions

Reading Reactions with No Choice: Students post critiques or reactions to a small set of reassigned articles and react to posts of a certain number of peers.

Reading Reactions with Extensive Choice: List all the articles in their reading packet within an online discussion tool. Next, assign students to reply to a set number of those articles. They decide which aricles they want to discuss and reply to.

Students Articles Free Choice: Have students select a set of articles to read for the semester and have them post summaries of some of them to the Web, as well as respond to the summaries of their peers.

Assigned Reading Reactions in Teams: Assign students to read and react to a particular set of articles that they are responsible for, and, near the end of that discussion, summarize and comment on the discussions of another gorup (Online Reading and Writing Techniques: Bonk 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Topical Discussions

List possible topics for discussion and have students vote on them and sign up to take the lead on one or more weeks.

Have students brainstorm a list of possible conferencing topics and then take responsibility to lead a week of discussion (Online Reading and Writing Techniques: Bonk 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Structured Controversy

Assigned Roles: Assign two students a pro side and two students a con side, and debate an issue electronically, and then switch roles and come to compromise; perhaps later post a reflection on the compromise positions of 1-2 other group.

Chosen Roles: as in above, but students select their own roles (Online Reading and Writing Techniques: Bonk 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Round-robin Activities

Storytelling: Have students create a story or scenario by having one person in the group start the story and send to the next group member who adds to it and forwards it on and so forth. The story circulates to everyone in the group. When done, students share their stories with either their group or the entire class.

Problem Solving: Have students start answering a question or topic and forward their partial answers to someone in their group who adds comments or ideas to it and passes it on till it circulates to everyone in the group. The goal here is to solve the problem originally posed. When done, students share their solutions, case analyses, etc., with either the group or the entire class (Online Reading and Writing Techniques: Bonk 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Discussion Board Facilitation

For good discussion board facilitation, you should randomly and selectively reply to students and provide prompt explanations or further comments regarding the topic of discussion. You should provide feedback in the discussion even if it is merely a "cheerleading" comment, redirection, or guideline submission.

You should intervene when the discussion seems to be struggling or headed the wrong way (Palloff & Pratt, 2001), but should not over-participate in the discussion, as this will be considered stifling and restrictive. Some instructors prompt absentee or "lurker" students with gentle reminder emails or telephone calls.

From "Tips and Tricks for Teaching Online" by Shelton and Saltzman, published in the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning.

Guest Experts

Real-Time Chat: Bring a guest expert to discuss issues in a real-time chat with preset questions or spontaneous discussion.

Asynchronous Discussion: Bring in an outside expert for a week or month to discuss some topic of significance to the class in an asynchronous online discussion (Other Online Learning Pedagogical Ideas: Bonk, 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Herrington & Oliver, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Feedback on the Discussion Board

It is difficult to provide individual feedback to students on their discussion postings since it would require individual emails each week. However, students really need your feedback to improve in online class discussion. Here is one solution that might be helpful:

Each week, choose a well-written quote from one of the student's discussion postings. Explain to the students how this posting not only met your expectations for the topic, but also provided meaningful information to the class and stimulated thoughtful discussion. Then, provide a summary of hte class discussion and include any important points that may have been missed.

Sending this email out after every session will remind students of good online discussion participation and that you are reading all of the postings.

Discussion Board Grading Rubric Example, by Bill Pelz, Professor at Herkimer County Community College.

Discussion Roles

Assign a moderator and summarizer for each class discussion. The moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track. The summarizer will provide a summation of the discussion once it is over and email it to the students in the course. You could ask for volunteers or assign the roles in the beginning of the course.

Ice Breakers and Closing Activites (Thiagarajan, 1998)

Eight Nouns Activity: Have students introduce themselves using either nouns and then explain why they chose each noun.

Coffee House Expectations: Have everyone post 2-3 of their expectations for the course in the online coffeehouse.

Treasure Hunts: Have everyone list interests, where born, hobbies, favorite places to visit, job, major, etc., and then have them find one thing in common and one thing different about each member of the class.

Brainteasers: Post a crossword puzzle, scrambled saying, competition, riddle, dilemma, or "IQ test," and see who can solve it.

Psychic Massage and Positive Strokes: At the end of the semester or unit, have students nominate for whom they must all compliment for his or her contributions to the online class ("the best thing I like about (name) is").

For online Group Discussins, insist that each time a student wishes to contribute a comment, he/she must FIRST read all prior comments. Otherwise, comments tend to repeat themselves and this turns off other students from spending the time to read all the comments. If necessary, the teacher should IMMEDIATELY publicly repeat on the Discussion Board this policy by "gently" reminding a student that his/her idea was already voiced earlier by another student. In extremis, the teacher can even announce that grade points will be deducted from students who transgress this rule egregiously.

Submitted by Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig, Bar-Ilan University (ISRAEL)

Interactive Peer and Guest Commenting

Link Ratings: Have students not just suggest Web links for the class, but also require them to rate or rank those suggested by their peers.

Profile Commenting: Have students comment on what they have in common with their peers directly in any peer profile, and perhaps rate the degree of commonality (Other Online Learning Pedagogical Ideas: Bonk, 1998; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Herrington & Oliver, 1999; Paulsen, 1995).

Discussion Board Participation

Creating a sample discussion, or model, may increase students' understanding of the participation requirement and how credit is assigned.

Discussion Board Dates

Assign a starting day for class discussion to begin. Then, notify the students of the "moving day" that discussion will close on that topic. That helps the students know to move on and not try to post late.

Submitted by Dr. Rich Torraco, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Student Questions

When students use email to pose course related questions, copy the question text and paste it into a discussion board posting (like a FAQ). Type "one student asked" and then paste the question. Then answer it. The student who used email will understand that general questions should be posted to the discussion board.

Wendy Lowe
La cite collegiale