Discussion Forums: Creating Engaging and Quality Online Discussions Between Faculty and Students

Concurrent Session 8

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Discussion boards are often strewn with lackluster engagement, viewed as “busy work”, and/or underutilized in the online classroom. Let’s discuss the true value of this often undervalued learning component within online classrooms through exploring and sharing applicable learning and teaching strategies to be utilized in the discussion forums. 


Tracy Tepley began her work with Rasmussen College in 2005, initially as a faculty member and later a Program Coordinator within the Early Childhood Education program. She moved into the Academic Dean role in 2010. Currently, she is the Academic Dean at both the Blaine and the Bloomington campus locations. Tracy holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from North Dakota State University.
Jennifer has been an Instructor at various colleges in Wisconsin, including Silver Lake, North West Technical College and Rasmussen. She specializes in teaching leadership, ethics, training and development and communication courses. Jennifer is a talented professional, seasoned in leading and developing a team. She is a dependable servant leader who produces quality-learning experiences focused on the needs of adult learners. She also has an ability to partner with all levels of the organization allowing her to align training, learning and organizational development to the unique culture inherent in every organization. She brings energy and passion to her work and always delivers best-in-class facilitation. She makes learning fun and her enthusiasm is contagious. Jennifer’s work history includes 15 years at Schneider National and 3.5 years at PAi, in the area of Training and Development. Jennifer managed and led her teams to embrace change and strive to be both formal and informal leaders. Currently (5 years), Jennifer is the Academic Dean at Rasmussen College at the Green Bay Campus. As the Dean, Jennifer has the dual role of supporting students in their academic journey and representing the faculty’s policies and points of view. Jennifer holds degrees in Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a Master’s in Management and Organizational Behavior from Silver Lake College respectively. Jennifer is full of energy, enthusiasm and positivity. She is an engaged and effective facilitator with an inherent ability to gauge the audience and culture she is working with, making others comfortable and eager to learn. Jennifer and her husband Steve have resided in Green Bay and have been married for 23 years. They are the proud pet parents of Abbey, Ellie and Gracie, three dogs. Jennifer is involved in numerous organizations to include SLOW, and Management Women Inc., where she is currently serving at the Vice President. Most recently, Jennifer became a certified yoga instructors and has stated teaching at various yoga studios. Namaste!

Extended Abstract

What is a discussion forum in the online classroom and how should it be utilized by faculty and students? This continues to be a point of discussion within the design and delivery component of the online classroom. The discussion forum is an assessment tool that can be utilized to help faculty measure the objectives and increase engagement in the online classroom. It is an interactive learning forum replicating the ability to have interaction with the content and the student much like a synchronous residential classroom. 

Discussion boards/forums are an asynchronous, interactive learning platform to share and discuss “skills” and concepts. This type of platform is necessary for working towards mastery levels of learning. It is the next step beyond self-talk which strengthens learning threefold (Boser, 2017). Research shows that those who discuss and describe their ideas externally tend to learn at a greater level than those who do not. We will be discussing how viewing discussion boards as a valuable component of the learning platform impacts how it can and should be utilized in the classroom.

The true balance between running a discussion forum and facilitating one is to have faculty focus on learning and creating discussions interesting enough to pull learners into the conversation. Informally throwing out a question is not what we are trying to model.  The discussion forums should actively help students to meet the course learning objectives and give more substance to the content. Too often the discussion boards are viewed as “busy work” or a place where “general opinions” are all that is needed. How we treat it will guide how the faculty uses it. 

Educators need to provide the “color” into what a substantive post really is. Through group discussion, a kahoot challenge, and case studies this session will take a deep dive into the look, feel, and engagement of an amazing discussion post and forum. In order to promote metacognition, we need to incorporate teaching strategies and questions to check for student understanding. This session will demonstrate critical thinking skills that will promote collaboration between faculty and students using the six types of talk (George Lucas Educational Foundation, 2016). Reviewing each type and putting examples into practice throughout the session will provide the audience with discussion forum tools that can be used immediately in the online classroom. It is critical that faculty are utilizing multiple learning and teaching strategies within the online classroom in order to best showcase their expertise and to create a dynamic learning environment (Lorenzetti, 2014). The discussion forum can serve to foster the development of communication skills. 

This session will expand even deeper on the role learning objectives play in the discussion forum.  The discussion forum should expand upon the learning objectives and bring them to life, connecting the faculty expertise to the learning objectives for the week. Teachable moments are all around us and the goal is to show students how to think critically and learn at a deeper level.  It is the role of the educator to provide depth and breadth in the online classroom.  This session will engage those tenants helping to create the look and feel of the online classroom to resemble, what some say, comes more “naturally” in a residential classroom. 

We plan to engage participants in a variety of ways during the 45 minutes allotted for the session. First, we will discuss the facts and myths surrounding discussion boards through an interactive Kahoot game (10 minutes). We will provide information, case studies, and research that support the value of a learning platform that a discussion board structure affords in the online classroom (10 minutes). We will provide our insight into the key goals for instructional focus and impact within the discussion forum (10 minutes). And finally, we will share practical teaching strategies and techniques that can be applied within the discussion board and elicit additional ideas, thoughts, and practices from the attendees (15 minutes). 


By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Understand how discussion boards are an integral part of the online learning environment.
  • Identify key goals and purposes of the discussion board forums within the online classroom.
  • Utilize learning strategies and methods that have been proven effective in the classroom directly within the discussion forums.



Boser, U. (2017, May 5). Talking to yourself (out loud) can help you learn. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/05/talking-to-yourself-out-loud-can-            help-you-learn 

George Lucas Educational Foundation (Ed.). (2016, September 15). Talking in class: Strategies for developing confident speakers who can share their thoughts and learning.                Retrieved from Eutopia website: https://www.edutopia.org/practice/oracy-classroom-strategies-effective-talk

Lorenzetti, J. P. (2014, November 14). What we can learn from unsuccessful online students. Retrieved from Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna                        Publications website: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/can-learn-unsucce...