How Do I Create Questions that Stimulate Engaging Conversations in Online Discussion Boards?

September 29, 2021

By Hannah Flatt


At the September 22, 2021, Midweek Mentor session, Dr. Jean Mandernach, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University, presented strategies for building community in online classes through discussion forums. She emphasized the importance of social interaction to learning and how the discussion boards can provide opportunities for valuable interaction in asynchronous courses.


In writing effective discussion prompts, Dr. Mandernach suggested avoiding questions that rely on a single (or limited) correct answer and instead focusing on open-ended prompts that provoke critical thinking and spark debate among students. It is best practice to begin with learning objectives in mind and create discussion prompts with the goal of having students meet those objectives.


Our discussion was led by Dr. Dave Knowlton (Educational Leadership), Irma Rose (SEHHB/IDLT), and Matt Schmitz (IDLT). Dr. Knowlton expanded on the instructor’s role as facilitator in discussion forums, stating the importance of being present in the conversation alongside students. Although facilitating discussion forums requires an investment of time, increased instructor presence in discussions can lead to more productive and engaging interaction and satisfy RSI requirements for an asynchronous course.  


The majority of this midweek mentor session focused on tips and strategies for managing discussion forums in online courses. First, it is important to provide students with guidelines for crafting a successful discussion board post. Likewise, it is good practice to include language in your syllabus that makes students aware of their responsibility surrounding class discussions. The syllabus template in the IDLT Teaching Toolkit provides sample language that can be used to inform students of your expectations for online discussions and online behavior (netiquette).


Lastly, some strategies for time management in discussion boards include having students as facilitators and utilizing TAs to help manage discussions in larger courses. Also, after reading students’ discussion posts, consider crafting a general response that can apply to many students and help move the conversation forward (as opposed to writing individual replies to each student). Although discussion boards require a great deal of time and facilitation, the student-to-student and instructor-to-student interactions that result are essential to successful online learning.

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