No DQ, No Problem: Removing Discussion Boards from the Online Classroom

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Removing weekly graded discussions from online courses is a scary proposition. Through a case study approach, we examine why we decided to go “discussion-free” in a second-year persuasive writing course, how we did it, and the impact on student learning.


Change management and effective instructional practices are the core of my success. Whether it is working through existing concerns and obstacles or planning for and solving future issues, the work is engaging and highly rewarding. When not working on curriculum training, I write fiction and enjoy spending time with friends and family.
Lauren has 10+ years experience in higher education as faculty, curriculum developer, subject matter expert, and administrator. During her five-year tenure at Strayer University, Lauren has served as faculty, campus dean, dean of faculty, learning mastery team member, and associate director of programs and products for IT, PAD, and criminal justice. She now serves as the university's dean of programs and products for general education. Lauren completed her PhD in English at the George Washington University (GW) in 2011. She expects to complete her next degree at GW — Master of Arts degree in Education with a focus on Education Technology Leadership – in the spring of 2019.
With over 17 years of experience developing adult-centered online programs, Jennifer knows what drives student success— learning experiences that connect academic content to learners’ own lives in realistic, relevant, and relatable ways. Jennifer has managed e-learning initiatives and operations for public, private, and for-profit institutions of higher education. She has led the development of solutions focused on scaling instructional design processes using Lean and project management principles while building infrastructures to keep pace with the evolving state of online higher education. Jennifer earned a BA in Corporate Communication from Marietta College, an MAEd in Adult Education and Distance Learning from the University of Phoenix, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from The University of Dayton. She is also a graduate of the OLC's Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Education.

Extended Abstract

In comparison to learners taking on-ground courses only, students in online courses have poorer performance and completion rates and are more likely to struggle in future courses (Bettinger & Loeb, 2017). The problem is not the online environment itself, but the application of traditional teaching models to an ever-evolving digital space.  Online courses often rely on discussion threads to foster community and shared learning but discussion threads can be tedious, time-consuming, and inauthentic-- particularly in skills-based courses.

Faced with the challenge to improve performance in a second-year persuasive writing course, we set out on a journey to replace asynchronous discussions with activities that cultivate community and learning through increased instructor-with-student communication and guided practice.

The problem: course performance numbers were low, student progress towards learning objectives showed major problems, and feedback suggested that students did not spend enough time actually writing and working on expressing their ideas. Faculty also reported that between grading and forum responses, they lacked time and energy to give essential formative feedback.

The common denominator:  not enough guided practice.

The proposed solution: What if we removed asynchronous discussion threads and focused on what (and how) students communicated?

The fear: the solution seemed risky.  Would we really be able to facilitate authentic learning experience by shifting the focus from the discussion board to the 1-on-1 interaction with the student’s coursework?

The discovery: measures of student success and faculty satisfaction suggested that our solution proved far less risky than we originally thought.

During this presentation, we will use the 5Es model (Bybee, 1997) to guide participants through a case study on removing asynchronous threaded discussions from a second-year persuasive writing course.

ENGAGE- We begin with an introduction to the topic and a poll activity to gauge the audience’s experiences and perspectives on asynchronous discussions in online courses.

EXPLORE- We review the historical and theoretical background for using asynchronous discussions and introduce the problem associated with applying traditional instructional models to online courses.

EXPLAIN AND ELABORATE- We develop the context for making the choice to go without discussion threads by illustrating the instructional problem, highlighting key elements of the proposed solution, summarizing the multi-faceted implementation plan, and sharing course performance data. Being able to engage with the students directly through looking at what students wrote before they turned it in meant that faculty could intervene and help students develop the skills associated with persuasive writing. Above simply assigning a grade, faculty could see in real-time how students progressed toward learning objectives (made possible by template areas in the Soomo webtext custom-designed for the course).

EVALUATE- Using audience response tools and open-ended prompts, participants will help us review lessons learned and identify other areas of study/ application in pursuit of challenging traditional assumptions about teaching to create more efficient and effective online learning experiences.


Bettinger, E., & Loeb, S. (2017). Promises and pitfalls of online education. Evidence Speaks Reports, 15(2). Retrieved from

Bybee, R. W. (1997). Achieving scientific literacy: From purposes to practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.