Online Discussion Boards: Strategies to Ease Instructor Burden and Promote Student Learning

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Teaching Online across devices

Flickr Photo Courtesy Of: Eric Wignall Teaching Online Across Devices

In online courses, discussion forums provide a place for student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction. Within discussion forums, students share thoughts and review the ideas of others modeled through collegial, dialogic exchanges. Despite research showing the benefits of discussions for student engagement and learning, these boards are often the bane of an instructor’s online existence. Because of mandated institutional engagement expectations, the discussion boards may take up the bulk of an online instructor’s time. To help alleviate discussion board burn-out, here are some strategies that can be used to promote student learning while reducing instructor workload:

  • The instructor should review course learning outcomes prior to the beginning of the term and tailor discussion content to extend and enrich the material presented in the readings and module content.
  • The instructor should post the initial response to all discussion forums. Interesting resources, insights, and additional questions can be posted to further student learning. This will establish the instructor’s online presence before a student even makes the first post.
  • For each week of the course, the instructor should create and save a series of daily discussion posts that can be cut and pasted into the forums. These posts should contain instructor thoughts on the topic, links to resources, or scholarship to further engage students in the discussion. These posts can be recycled each term. The instructor will be able to make daily contributions without breaking a sweat.
  • If students are not participating early in the week in the discussion forum, the instructor should consider posting an additional prompt encouraging students. Consider something like: “It is Tuesday and no one has posted a response yet. I am eager to get the discussions going this week. Post away!” This will facilitate student-to-student engagement early in the week and allow the instructor to simply facilitate the communication.
  • YouTube videos, Ted Talks, news articles, etc. should be posted to make the discussions technologically rich, while requiring less typing from the instructor.
  • Narrative comments should be posted as part of assignment feedback directing students to revisit and comment on something in the discussion forum. This allows the instructor to save template comments that can be used each term to connect learning outcomes between assignments and discussions.
  • The instructor should respond to the initial post a student makes in each forum. In that post, either ask a question, affirm something the student stated, redirect if the student is off-topic, or provide a link to a resource the student might enjoy. Use the student’s name in the response to personalize comments, but then consider some general prompts that can be used no matter what the topic to promote learning. Here are some examples:
    • Steve, how do you believe that this discussion topic is related to your professional goals? I appreciate your reflection.
    • Maria, apply what you learned from this activity to some aspect of your life and share your findings with our colleagues. Thanks!
    • Antoine, it is clear you are making deep connections to the material presented here. If you were to suggest resources for someone interested in learning more about this topic, what would you suggest?
    • Shante, were you able to locate any peer-reviewed research to support your answer to this discussion prompt? If so, what source(s) did you find most valuable?
    • Anthony, if we wanted to extend this discussion beyond what has been shared so far, what additional questions could we ask?

 By creating efficiencies, instructors can come to love the discussion forum. Not only is it the best place in an online class to promote the learning community, but forums provide the perfect opportunity to establish instructor presence. These strategies should begin to chip away at the dread some feel about the weekly discussion beast. Happy postings! 


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