One of the interactive tools available in Blackboard is the Discussion Board. Whilst moving to online teaching, we’ve seen staff start to use discussion boards to communicate with their students and for students to communicate with their peers.
In this blogpost, we’ll be giving you some tips on how best to design learning activities using discussion boards and some strategies for implementing them into learning and teaching. As we move to online teaching, it’s important to remember that this is new to students as well as staff. A well-designed online learning activity will help to alleviate stresses for students and queries for staff.
One of the most common queries we get from staff is about student engagement with various e-learning tools. Engagement depends on how the learning activity is designed and how it feeds into the rest of the module and learning process.
The first question to ask yourself when starting to use discussion boards is what is its purpose? What is it that you want your students to do or be able to do after engaging with the activity? After you’ve established that the discussion board is the correct tool for the activity (remember to put the learning need first), you can begin to design it.
A recent blogpost by Slobodan Tomic, Ellen Roberts, Jane Lund from York University identifies some tips for best embedding Discussion Forums in your teaching. They propose a series of 5 questions that will help you to clarify the specificities of your discussion board for your learning activity:
|1. What is the activity?
||A discussion (with or without reference to a resource)
A reflection on personal experience
A co-created presentation
|2. What is the purpose of the discussion or activity?
||To enable students to:
· Digest and critique a reading
· Construct an argument
· Test/challenge a theory
· Work in pairs/teams
· Develop skills (e.g. search for and share resources)
|3. What do students need to do and by when?
||How long will the activity run for?
Should they post once, or more than once?
Should they respond to at least one other post?
Do they need to communicate off-platform to complete the task?
Should they nominate a rapporteur?
What are the deadlines for each stage of the task?
|4. What will the tutor’s role be, and how often will they be ‘present’ (see below)?
||Will tutors facilitate the discussion?
Or will they lurk but not comment until a particular point?
Will tutors be checking in every day? Every few days? At the end of the task if it is a student-led task?
|5. What do students do if they have any problems?
||How should communicate this?
In the forum?
There are many more useful tips in this blogpost so do look at it.
Once you’ve got the correct purpose for the discussion board, you can start to think about how best to embed into your teaching.
The following tips should help encourage engagement:
- Have you prepared the students for the activity?
- Have you explained exactly what you expect of the students?
- Have you provided students with guidance on how to engage with the tool?
- Have you explained to students how best to communicate with you?
- Have you explained to your students the benefit of engaging with the activity?
- Do your students know why they have to undertake the activity?
- Have you explained to students why you have set up the activity in a certain way?
- Have you responded to discussion board posts regularly (if designed in the learning activity)?
- Have you responded to posts in other learning activities?
- If running virtual seminars, have you drawn on the content in the posts?
- Have you provided sample discussion forum posts to your students?
- If you’re expecting students to post on other discussion forum posts, have you given examples of what types of posts they should be doing?
You may also Gilly Salmon’s Five Stage Model useful. This model isn’t new but is designed to help scaffold students into online discussion.
Hopefully, these tips will help you design your learning activity using discussion boards. Once you have designed the activity, you’ll find all the help on setting them up in our FAQs: https://faqs.aber.ac.uk/index.php?search=discussion.
We’re always on the lookout to hear from people successfully using e-learning tools in their teaching. If you’ve been using the Discussion Board feature successfully, then we’d like to hear from you. Drop us an email. As always, if you have any questions about using these tools, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomic, S., Roberts, E., Lund, J. 2020. Designing learning and teaching online: the role of discussion forums. [Online]. Available at: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/designing-learning-and-teaching-online-role-discussion-forums. Last accessed: 30.04.2020.
Salmon, G. n.d. Five Stage Model. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html. Last accessed: 30.04.2020.