Tips for Instructional Practice

Guest Author – Emily Hixon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology

 Online discussions can be valuable learning tools for online courses and hybrid courses, as well as face-to-face courses. They provide a vehicle for building class community, encouraging deep thought, promoting reflection, ensuring all student voices are heard, sharing student work, and developing writing skills. Careful structuring and skillful facilitation of online discussions will ensure that they are effective tools for learning. Here are some tips for setting up and managing online discussions:

  • Require participation – Students will often do only what is minimally required, so be sure you are requiring what you view as necessary participation and encourage additional participation beyond the minimum requirements, if appropriate.
  • Make expectations clear – Be very clear about both the quantity and quality expectations for discussion board posts. A rubric can be a helpful tool for communicating and assessing your expectations for participation.
    • Carefully construct writing prompts - Use well-constructed questions/prompts that promote critical thinking and provide room for diverse views to be expressed.
  • Make a separate deadline for initial and reply posts – If a discussion activity will include an initial post and replies to peers’ posts, set separate deadlines for the initial post and reply posts. This will ensure that students have ample time to review their peers’ initial posts and draft thoughtful replies.
  • Require an initial post to gain access to peers’ posts – Blackboard has a NEW feature which allows an instructor to require students make an initial post before seeing what their peers have posted. This promotes original thought for initial posts, untainted by what others may have written.
    • Be present in the discussions – Model high-quality posts and monitor discussion to ensure that it stays on track.
  • Allow students to “subscribe” to discussions – Discussion boards in Blackboard can be set to allow users to “subscribe,” which will send an email notification of new posts. This can be helpful in allowing students and instructors to monitor participation in whole forums (like a Q&A forum) or follow specific threads of interest in a discussion (like a student’s own initial post thread).

For additional tips on facilitating effective online discussions, check out this resource guide:  http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/stw/edutopia-onlinelearning-mastering-online-discussion-board-facilitation.pdf