Discussion Board Prompts

January 27, 2016

By Lynn Bartels

Next week's Midweek Mentor video is Beyond the Discussion Board:  How Can I Engage Online Students. Discussion boards are frequently used in online or technology-enhanced courses.  Before we discuss alternatives to discussion boards, let’s think about what works in an online discussion.  Here are some ideas for discussion boards prompts. 

1.  Interview Someone in the Field

In this assignment, I ask students to interview someone working within the field/subject matter we are discussing. I give students a list of interview questions and ask them to post their responses.  Then the students review other students’ posts and identify themes they see across posts.  This gives students an opportunity to see how the material we cover in class relates to work being done in the field and may help them see the relevance of what they are learning.

2.  Professional Socialization

I often teach one of the first courses students take in our Masters program. Not only do I want them to learn the content of the course, but I also want them to think about the profession as a whole. I assign short articles on professionally relevant topics (e.g., Explaining to others what Industrial/Organizational Psychologists do-- many people really have no idea, Graduate Student Life, Presenting your Research, Going on to a Doctoral Program). Then I ask them to respond to questions about what they read. Taking these topics outside of the class to a discussion board saves class time.

3. Controversial Topics

Trish Oberweis (Criminal Justice) suggests using controversial topics which students may not have already thought about and formulated a response. Here’s an example:  “What legal justification is there for banning sagging pants?  What social norms factor into your particular opinion about this issue?  Is this justice for everyone?  Why/Why not?  Be sure to engage with your peers and respond to one another.  Discuss the matter of justice and fashion?”

4.  Case Studies

Maryellen Weimer (from Faculty Focus) suggests starting with a case study and adding new details and information to the case as it is being discussed.  This can help students learn to react to changing situations.  She also suggests a debriefing session where students can discuss their reactions to the changing information.

Here are some other interesting ideas from Tami Eggleston’s From the Green Flag to Checkered Flag: Planning for Productive Pedagogy presentation at UMSL’s Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference. 

5.  Tell a Grandma

In this discussion board, students are asked to explain a complicated topic to a cool, educated older woman without using technical jargon.  This is especially challenging for upper-level students who have worked hard to learn a lot of technical jargon and may have trouble communicating clearly to “lay people.”


6.  Twitter Time

Tami suggested using this one during one of the weeks when you don’t have a lot of time to spend on grading.  Require students to respond to a prompt on the discussion board using Twitter’s character restriction of 140 characters or less


7.  Role-playing

Ask students to respond to a question as a specific theorist would.  In a Psychology course, I could ask students to play the role of B.F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud, or Abraham Maslow. Historians could also ask students to take on a character living in a certain time period to write a diary entry of what s/he did during the day.  It’s important to provide explicit instructions about what they need to do (Kelly, March 7, 2014).

To learn more about Discussion Boards, check out the Midweek Mentor Video, How do I Create Engaging Threaded Discussion Questions? This video available in our on-demand collection provides lots of helpful tips in identifying good questions to ask.

What types of discussion board questions have worked for your classes?

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