Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are an asynchronous activity, meaning that students and professors are given more time and flexibility to participate. Students may have other commitments at home, as do professors, and a discussion for drafting and writing a response at a convenient time is a great option. 

Why Discussion Boards?

  • Give students and professors more time and flexibility to participate
  • Retain student interest, promote participation and increase the instructor’s presence
  • More frequent, lower-stakes assessment to check in on student understanding

Plan a Discussion Strategy

Place discussion boards in your overall class strategy

  • Can this replace smaller quizzes or take the place of one essay?
  • When should students write their first post? When should they respond?
  • Will I write the questions? Could I have the students pose their own questions based on readings or videos in the course?

Think about your course and figure out where discussion boards might fit into what you are already doing. Could it replace smaller quizzes or take the place of one essay? Think about the balance of workload in the course and where these small writing assignments could fit in.

Think about the schedule of your course – do you meet in-person or in a sync session weekly? Do you want students to discuss the questions before that or do you want them to continue the discussion after you meet live? You should also plan days for students to make their first post, and for them to respond to their fellow students to keep them on track.

You should also think about who will write the questions. You can do it, or you can have students act as ‘moderators” for the discussion board and assign them to lead the discussion for the week. 

Ask yourself questions before you write questions

  • What purpose do I want discussion to serve in my class?
  • See diverse perspectives? Debate contrasting viewpoints? Give feedback student-to-student?
  • How do you want them to engage?
  • What questions foster dialogue in my field? 
  • What are hot topics in research, news, or application? What are controversial questions? What kinds of debates are common?

Develop Good Questions

If your question has a “right” answer, or easily has a “yes” or “no”, it is not a good question for a discussion board. You should aim to be open-ended and elicit critical thinking skills. Evaluation, synthesis, analysis and application are the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a framework that presents student skills and abilities on a continuum from basic to complex. Discussion questions should not simply check for student’s recall or understanding of a concept. They should prompt students to dig into issues more thoughtfully – apply the knowledge they have learned in your class to particular situations, analyze data and situations, evaluate and make judgements about material, or create a

Application Questions: Use application questions to have students place the key concepts you’ve taught into scenarios. For example, predict what would happen if this happened? Judge the effects of this policy or situation occurring? Can you group these elements by certain characteristics? What are the categories? Share another instance where this concept applies.

Analysis Questions: Analysis allows students to dig deeper into concepts and differentiation. What assumptions exist in this argument, or in this analysis you read? What is the relationship between these variables? What inconsistencies or fallacies exist between these arguments? Can you distinguish between these two authors?

Evaluation Questions: Evaluation questions ask students to make judgements. For example, which of these is more important, moral, better, logical? Is there a better solution than the one provided in the reading or video? Judge the value of this position or this course of action. 

Creation Questions: Finally creation questions have students take the previous skills and combine them into higher-level development – planning and producing materials. Can you see and develop your own possible solution to this scenario? Can you design something to address this? Develop a proposal which would address this problem and scenario presented.

Alternate Board Styles

There are also alternate board styles from posting initial questions for students to respond. 

You could create a debate – have half the students take one side of an issue, and have the other half take a different side. Have them make their “opening statement” posts and then as moderator of the debate, ask clarifying questions for the two sides to address. 

Discussion boards can also be used as a place for Peer Review. Students can post their works in progress for other students to review and provide feedback. 

Role play is another style. Ask students to read primary source documents and write their response from a particular person’s perspective. For example, “I’m Sigmund Freud and this is my opinion on the causes of mental illness”. 

Finally, case study analysis and scenarios are great for discussion boards. Have students read a case or scenario and answer questions about the case or make a plan of action for the scenario.