Ditching the Discussion Board: Building Innovative Tools for Collaboration in Asynchronous Online Classes

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online offerings can cause disconnect among students, particularly at smaller schools. This session will utilize a case study of a highly-interpersonal humanities seminar at a small community college in New Jersey to show participants new tools and techniques to engage students and build communities in asynchronous learning environments.

Extended Abstract

While asynchronous online classes offer the greatest degree of flexibility for students and instructors, this often comes at the price of student connectivity. In the absence of synchronous meetings or face-to-face classroom sessions, students may not only fail to engage with course material, but they fail to build meaningful connections with their peers and instructors. For all the dismay we often hear students express towards collaborative projects, the lack of community in asynchronous learning environments represents a barrier for student investment. This is particularly true at smaller schools, where interpersonality is directly tied to student outcomes.

Student feedback emphasizes the need to build connections with peers and to create collaborative learning environments in order to heighten their engagement with course material. Standard collaboration tends to come in the form of the dreaded discussion board post, which, while convenient for instructors, too often becomes a checklist item for students that neither enables true community building or meaningful discussion. We must encourage instructors to allow students new spaces for creative collaboration. This can be accomplished through the use of digital tools to increase student interaction outside of the dreaded post-and-reply discussion board format. 

This session will present the case of a highly-interpersonal humanities seminar at a small community college in New Jersey that transitioned to an asynchronous online format as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This successful transition was accomplished through the use of easily-accessible and low-cost multimedia tools to facilitate class “movie nights,” collaborative readings, visual projects, class playlists, mobile app-based assignments, and other high-engagement activities designed to build community and drive student engagement in the absence of face-to-face class sessions. Rather than requiring students to purchase expensive software or configure numerous tools, these assignments largely utilize platforms readily available to students at minimal or no cost. This model downplays top-down instruction and removes the instructor as the sole authority of the course, thus increasing both peer interaction and student ownership. In addition, students are provided with space to think laterally and approach course material in both creative and social formats, allowing for a more personal connection to course content.

In this session, attendees will be given a tour of several platforms, apps, and tools that can assist them in creating new modalities for student engagement. Although the case study examines a humanities-based course, instructors in all content areas often struggle to humanize esoteric content and make concepts relatable. The demonstrated tools for student collaboration can be adapted to all subject areas, require minimal technical support and financial investment, and, most importantly, make the online classroom an active learning space with ample community building and collaboration even in a format traditionally considered the most impersonal. Ditch the discussion board and join our presenter in exploring the tools available and new, creative ways to incorporate them into your own classes, those of your colleagues, or throughout your institution.