Successful Participation in the Online Discussion Board
In an online course, a discussion board can be used as a simple tool to demonstrate a student’s understanding of course materials or as a complex interactive forum to encourage students to analyse and critique their own, and each other’s, ideas. This guide will provide you with information about how discussion boards are organized, how to write effective discussion board posts and how to engage respectfully with your peers.
- Anatomy of a discussion board
- Requirements for participation
- What makes a good post?
- Discussion board etiquette
Discussion boards generally contain areas called forums and threads, which organize conversations by topic.
The forum, created by your course instructor, is the section of the discussion board where students participate by posting comments. Your course may have a new forum for each weekly topic or module.
Threads are conversations within a forum. The course instructor, or the first student to contribute to the discussion forum, will create the first thread. Students post their contribution(s) to the conversations by creating new “original” threads or responding to existing threads that were created by other students.
Reply to a Thread
Students respond to the appropriate thread within the discussion board. Usually there will be a “reply” button and a discussion box will automatically open for text entry.
Quote a Thread
Sometimes, students may want to include the text that they are responding to with their own post. The “quote” button opens up a new window for discussion, which includes the existing thread’s text.
It is important, before you begin to post in a discussion board, that you familiarize yourself with the discussion board participation requirements. Your instructor may want you to create a certain number of “original” thread posts as well as a particular number of responses to existing threads created by others.
Your participation in the discussion board may be graded. If this is the case, check the rubric or the course syllabus to understand the requirements for our discussion board posts. Does the instructor want you to refer to course material or provide evidence from other sources to support your responses? How are you expected to cite your sources? Is there a minimum or maximum length for your post?
Find out if the forum has a due date and mark those dates in your calendar; you don’t want to miss the opportunity to contribute or wait until the last minute to make an unprepared contribution.
Finally, some discussion boards have an option for students to “subscribe” and receive notifications of new activity. This feature could be helpful if you are expected to respond to peers’ threads.
The best posts are informed. Discussion boards are not places for opinion and uneducated guesses. The ideas in your discussion post should be supported by course material and, when required, other evidence. This is your chance to demonstrate how you are engaging with, analysing and/or applying course ideas.
Take the time to carefully craft your response. It can be a good idea to use a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word, to write your contribution and then paste it to the forum after you have checked the organization and structure of your writing.
It is also important to be concise and clear in your response. Try not to wander off topic; the best answers are brief, yet rich with detail. For longer answers, include an introductory sentence explaining how you plan to answer the forum question and a concluding sentence to summarize your response. Be sure to proofread and edit your contribution before submitting; poor grammar and spelling will detract from the overall clarity and quality of your post.
If you are required to respond to threads created by other students, do your best to build on their ideas. You can do this by directly referring to a part of their post that you liked, agreed or disagreed with before adding your own thoughts.
Finally, and very importantly, academic integrity applies to discussion posts just as it would if you were writing an essay. If you refer to the work or ideas of others, you must cite using the referencing style required by your discipline. Check with your course instructor for more information about citing and referencing if you are unclear about their expectations.
As we all know, digital communication lacks some key features of face-to-face interaction. It is important to keep this in mind when reading and responding to your classmates’ posts.
Try not to read anything into a classmate’s words – in the absence of visual cues we sometimes tend to assign a tone or intent to a message that may not be accurate. Assume the best of your peers even when their tone sounds harsh or impolite to you, and respond with courtesy and kindness.
When you can, encourage and support your peers by telling them which parts of their post you enjoyed and agreed with before pointing out the parts that are unclear or problematic to you. If you find a particular topic raises difficult feelings or emotions for you, wait a little time before posting. Often, when we give ourselves time to reflect on an emotional response, we find new insight and ways of communicating as those big feelings subside.
Finally, on a practical note – a few don’ts:
- don’t write in ALL CAPS or people will assume you are shouting;
- don’t use fancy script fonts, instead use a simple and accessible font (sans serif such as Arial is good);
- don’t use colourful text that could be difficult for some people to read;
- don’t assume the gender of a classmate, it is best to use gender neutral pronouns when in doubt or use their proper name when responding; and
- don’t use slang and non-standard spelling (you not u, too not 2).
Discussion boards in online courses are spaces where students and instructors contribute, in meaningful ways, to conversations about important course content. Creating well written, informed and respectful posts can help you to engage effectively with others and expand your ability to think about, and articulate, your excellent ideas.