Cultivating Deep Learning Using Discussion Boards

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**This webinar is part of the OLC Accelerate 2022 Best-in-Track webinar series!**

A frequent sentiment that is often heard from instructors of online courses is a general sense of dissatisfaction with traditional discussion board activities. Many report how students are often reluctant to engage in meaningful discourse or how interactions tend toward superficiality and sound something like, “Hello, Rob. I agree with your point and couldn’t have said it better myself.” This often leaves instructors feeling frustrated and tempted to abandon traditional discussion boards as a learning tool altogether or in search of alternative means by which to engage learner collaboration.

Asynchronous discussion boards are a common tool used by instructors in online courses. These forums can provide an outlet to foster the interaction and collaboration that are sometimes lacking in an online learning environment. When students are engaged in conversations in these settings, the asynchronous nature of discussions can provide them with time to reflect on their responses before interacting with their peers in a way that is often not feasible in a face-to-face discussion. In this way, when it is used well, the discussion board can offer the ideal blend of reflection and collaboration that promotes the construction of knowledge in an online learning environment.

However, while its asynchronous nature can have the positive outcome of promoting deliberation, it can also result in periods of inactivity as students wait for responses from their peers that then leave them scrambling to interact with one another as the discussion deadline draws near. Text-based online discussions have been critiqued for their generally antisocial and impersonal nature. Additionally, the structure of some types of discussion prompts are not conducive for supporting deep and meaningful conversations.

During this webinar, we’ll begin by reflecting on why the discussion board has become a staple practice within an online learning environment and if it is anathema to suggest abandoning it altogether. We will explore several different structures and ways to classify online discussion prompts and what research suggests that some of those structures are good for and not-so-good for. For example, which types of discussion prompts are better at encouraging students to exchange ideas? Which are better at facilitating critical thinking? Which seem to be good only at generating lower levels of thinking? We will engage in conversation around ‘What makes a good discussion question?’ before identifying the characteristics that have been shown to be successful at generating engagement and pushing students to think critically. We propose three main structures for effective discussion prompts that will each be examined in greater depth.

Key Takeaways:

The goals for this session include the following:

  • Identify the characteristics of discussion board prompts that support deep learning, knowledge construction, and sustained discussion.
  • Create your own discussion prompts that generate deep learning, knowledge construction, and sustained discussion.

Intended Audience:

Faculty, instructional support, and training professionals

Speaker Bio


Rob Rose

Instructional Designer – University of North Florida

Rob is an instructional designer in the Center for Instruction and Research Technology at the University of North Florida. Rob comes to the CIRT team after working as a teacher and instructional coach for Duval County Public Schools, where he most recently helped design and lead training to assist new teachers with acclimating to the world of distance learning in the wake of Covid-19. He has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and is currently pursuing a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in educational technology from the University of Florida. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, kayaking, and creating stained glass windows.