Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Use Discussion Board Forums to Promote Active Student Learning

Since many colleagues are currently developing or revising their syllabi for the spring semester, it seems apropos to suggest an active student learning strategy.  Discussion board forums can be an effective alternative to relying upon “pop quizzes” to ensure students are reading course texts or materials.  Thoughtful strategies to reduce the trend toward “aliteracy” will help improve active student learning.  While many instructors find micro-blogging or social media within the classroom either too extreme or provides unintended consequences from allowing internet access during class time, the use of discussion boards is an alternative that can actually promote reading of course material by requiring thoughtful, critical, written responses to divergent questions related to the topical reading material.  The tracking, monitoring, and grading features incorporated into the Blackboard or Moodle student learning platforms allow the instructor to work smarter rather than harder to promote student success and active engagement.  

Effective discussion board forums provide the opportunity to promote higher order thinking skills (HOTS) by requiring effective written discussion.  Instructors setting up effective topics can empower students to take ownership of their learning.  It is important to establish high expectations to avoid “textese” and optimize learning:

  • Require word processing before copying, pasting, and posting any response.
  • Encourage students to include a related question for a peer or the instructor to subsequently discuss, which thereby builds engagement into the thread.

 Presenting clear discussion board policies with established expectations for both students and the instructor(s) promote success.  Establishing the expectations at the beginning of the semester and following through is key to students’ respecting expectations.  The following models can provide helpful starting points;

Model 1:Students must post their initial response to the initial classroom discussion question by Day X.  A second classroom discussion question must be posted by Day Y of each week.  This model requires the active discussion to be between each student and the instructor.  It does not promote active on-line engagement between students.

Model 2: Students must post their initial response to the classroom discussion question by Day X of each week.  Each student must then respond to at least two classmates’ initial response by Day Y of each week.  This promotes active on-line engagement between students and allows the instructor to monitor participations and selectively respond.

Participation Expectations: Participating in any classroom discussion forum is essential to the learning experience.  By participating in the (weekly) discussions students and instructors share experiences, investigate complicated subject matter, share expertise, and examine the content from new perspectives.  An instructor should credit participation based on the following:

  • Initial posts of 75-100 words should follow a prescribed style/format (APA, 2010) and exhibit word processing before posting.  The initial post should integrate course theories with a practical application of the subject.  For example, the student should offer a personal observation or experience, or reference real-world examples, current events, or cite research conducted on the topic.
  • Follow-up responses to classmates’ initial posts should be 40-60 words and:
    • Promote interaction in classroom discussion by demonstrating deeper or broader thoughts about the topic
      • Mitigates rephrasing what the textbook or another student already stated.   
    • Encourage further discussion and ongoing dialogue with other students in the class.
    • Present communications that are professional and supportive, using a respectful tone.
    • Exhibit proofreading and contain minimal errors in writing mechanics.

To summarize, discussion board questions should be topical, thereby promoting analysis of the reading.  Clear expectations should require synthesis of thought in order to effectively respond.  While a convergent question may draw the student in, a divergent question is needed to promote HOTS and increase the fidelity and thoroughness of the discussion/debate.


To Cite:

Anderson, C.J. (January 7, 2014) Use discussion board forums to promote active student learning
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