Fostering student engagement & motivated participation in discussion forums: Examples from Columbia University

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

For new and experienced online instructors, or those who work with them, this session will share examples of high-participation discussion forum assignments from Columbia University, different ways to set up and facilitate discussion forums, sample grading rubrics for discussion forums, and strategies to plan for issues that may come up.


Matthea Marquart has focused her professional life on education and training, both online and in person, since 2005. She currently serves as the Director of Administration for the Online Campus at Columbia University's School of Social Work, where she created the award-winning Institute on Pedagogy and Technology for Online Courses. She also serves as an instructor for Master's of Science in Social Work courses. Matthea's prior professional experience includes roles as National Director of Training at Building Educated Leaders for Life, President of the NYC Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Director of Foundation and Government Relations at Inform, Inc. She has also worked internationally, in England, South Korea, and Spain. Matthea holds an MS in Social Work from Columbia University and a BA in English from Emory University, where she completed a year at Oxford University and additional coursework at UC Berkeley. She has been a Network for Social Work Management Policy Fellow, a United Way of NYC Senior Fellow in the Nonprofit Leadership Development Institute at Baruch College, a member of the Community Resources Exchange Leadership Caucus, and a blogger for New York Nonprofit Press. She earned a Certificate of Professional Achievement in Business by completing online business courses at Columbia University's School of Professional Studies, which has helped her understand the student perspective of taking online courses. She completed OLC's IELOL (Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning) program in 2018, and is enrolled in the Council on Social Work Education's 2019-20 Program Director Academy. She was honored to receive the Network for Social Work Management's Exemplar Award in 2019 for exemplary performance and leadership as a social work executive leader. She enjoys writing and speaking about the unique opportunities and challenges of online instruction, and welcomes invitations to speak or facilitate workshops. She has published a dozen training and education-related articles since 2006, and her latest publications include the article Taking Online Social Work Courses -- 7 Professional Benefits, and the book chapters How Co-Teaching and Other Strategies Promote Lively Student Engagement, Instructional Strategies for Synchronous Components of Online Courses, and That Human Element: Fostering Instructor Presence Through Online Instructional Videos. She has presented at numerous conferences, including the Online Learning Consortium's Accelerate Conference, the Social Work Distance Education Conference, the International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace, and The eLearning Guild New England Regional Instructional Design Symposium.

Extended Abstract

Discussion forums are a key component of most online and blended courses, and are often included as homework for face-to-face courses as well.  In this session, the presenters will share examples of discussion forum assignments that have yielded high student participation, as well as different ways to set up and facilitate discussion forums, including student-led and small-group discussion forums.  The presenters will also share sample grading rubrics for discussion forums, and strategies to plan ahead for issues that may come up.  The examples and strategies will come from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, which offers a fully online Master’s of Science in Social Work program.  


This interactive session will begin with polls to learn why participants have chosen to attend;  the presenters will use the poll results to tailor the use of time for the different sections of the presentation.  In addition, throughout the presentation, participants will have the opportunity to share their own strategies, ask questions, and add to their toolkits of strategies for online discussion forums.  Strategies discussed will appeal to a range of budgets and classroom staffing, so as to be applicable and sustainable at any school.  


Examples of discussion forums will include text-based and media-based discussions, as well as instructor-led and student-led discussions, and will cover many different course topics.  Multiple student and instructor perspectives will be included as well.


The goals for this session:

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

  1. Describe example high-participation discussion forum assignments from Columbia University School of Social Work

  2. Discuss different ways to set up, facilitate, and grade discussion forums

  3. Share their strategies and add to their toolkits for setting up and facilitating discussion forums online

  4. Plan for potential issues and share their strategies for addressing challenges