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Disrupting the Discussion Board

February 10, 2016

By Jonathan Coons

Powerful things are often complicated and, in an instructor’s arsenal, the discussion board can be a powerful tool. That doesn’t mean that a discussion board should be difficult to utilize for anyone. However, novel application can increase the quality of learning when learning is being facilitated by technology. As an instructor, disruption may require a bit more time on the drawing board.


Building a Novel Experience

Imagine being in traditional classroom with 20 or more peers. In this situation, the instructor asks you to have a meaningful discussion about the following question: “What are the advantages of nuclear energy?” If your knowledge of the advantages is the same textbook information that your peers were asked to read, it is unreasonable to expect a meaningful discussion. If, instead, that instructor provided an example of a location with some complex considerations that wanted to build a nuclear reactor, broke the class up into two groups, provided time for each group to research the positives and negatives of nuclear energy, and then tasked the two groups to argue against each other in a structured environment, that instructor would have built a much more meaningful activity where learners could demonstrate what they have learned via the simulation.

That level of learning activity can be leveraged with a discussion board. For such an activity, you may want to consider one or more of these ideas:

  • locking the discussion board so that only the instructor can post topics
  • suggesting some initial additional resources to help guide learners
  • assigning an overall grade for the activity that is tied to the discussion board – if all posts are in the discussion board the instructor only needs to go one place to grade and can see all posted work
  • challenging learners to ask additional questions as part of an overall participation grade
  • requiring group members to submit a grade for fellow group members and require group members to assess themselves as part of the participation grade
  • modeling a discussion response for learners to replicate
  • breaking responses into two groups: initial and final – to allow learners to develop thoughtful responses
  • having learners write a summary of the argument
  • planning time accordingly – learners can demonstrate a wide range of information for an activity with this level of depth


I recently worked with a winter session instructor that was looking for a novel solution. They wanted to add collaboration to a three-week class and to limit the amount of time required to grade each student’s work. Instead of creating four discussion boards for each of his three modules, we created three discussion boards with four topics. Learners would complete three questions where they were prompted to cite sources. Then, they would respond/build off the person who posted above them. And for the final question, they would reflect on the quality of their work and reflect on how a peer’s post influenced their point of view. Of course, the instructor still had to read each post, but they only had to assign one grade for each discussion board.

Coming up with a novel discussion board idea takes a bit of time and creativity, but I challenge you to add depth to your discussion and disrupt the conventional discussion board assignment.

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