Reinventing the Discussion Board: A Design Thinking Workshop

Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Text based discussion threads abound in online higher education. But are they the best method of collaboration? How much cognitive engagement and co-construction of knowledge do they facilitate? What are the alternatives in Education 4.0? 

This session will use design thinking to explore this issue. 


Extended Abstract

The discussion forum is ubiquitous in online higher education. Most learning management systems (LMS) have the in-built facility to host asynchronous discussions via a discussion board of some sort. The question this design thinking workshop raises and aims to explore is: What are the issues that users have with text-based asynchronous discussion boards, and what are the alternatives in Education 4.0? 

Some of the issues with discussion boards have been well summarised by de Lima, Gerosa & Conte (2019): 

"Discussion forums can experience both periods of inactivity and intermittent flurries of messages. (Filippo, Fuks & de Lucena, 2009). Without adequate feedback, only low levels of cognitive engagement occur, and students may feel isolated. (Abawajy & Kim, 2011).  Feeling isolated can result in limited participation or lack of depth and quality of the discussion" (Watson 2008). 


Despite the idea of discussions facilitating a community of practice in higher education units, they are often under-utilised. Some institutions make them mandatory or assign grades to them in an effort to drive engagement, but the truth is that these strategies are at best, a failsafe to ensure that they are used, and at worse coerce students into meaningless collaboration or contribution without collaboration. 

Design thinking has risen in popularity since Brown (2008) and Martin (2009) first propelled the idea onto a world stage. This is partly because of its ability as a framework to allow for co-design of meaningful products that are useful to the end user. Used in educational design, design thinking has the same ability as it does elsewhere to create meaningful solutions to real problems. In this workshop, we will use the first three stages of the design thinking process: Empathise, Define and Ideate. 

In Stage 1: Empathise, we will create personas in small teams.  The participants will discuss their institutions’ issues related to text-based discussion boards and co-create a persona of someone who interacts with online discussions in some way. This persona could be a student, an instructor, a designer, or a technician. We suspect that most participants will create personas of either students or instructors but are open to surprises. 

In Stage 2: Define, we will use these personas to find a 'problem worth solving' and settle in each group on one problem that will be the focus of the rest of the workshop and beyond. 

In Stage 3: Ideate, we will come up with as many creative solutions as possible to the problem worth solving. We will consider ideas that go beyond the bounds of possibility, including hopefully some that would get participants fired from their current position. By pushing the boundaries in this space, we hope to come to a final idea that fulfils the following criteria: 

  • Useful to the end user
  • Ground-breaking 
  • Workable (i.e. Cost-effective, doable in the time allowed etc.) 

The workshop will close with the intended goal of participants taking back to their institutions or professional practice one such idea, which they will then use to implement the last two stages of the design thinking process: Prototype and Test. 

The results of the Prototype and Test stages of each project will be shared via a LinkedIn group set up by the workshop leaders, as well as no doubt leading to other meaningful cross-intuitional collaboration and sharing of ideas.