Part 1: Introduction
By Jennifer Bunk, SIOP Blogger
I was going to omit the question mark for this post’s title, but I realized that would be too presumptuous. There are lots of advantages to using discussion boards for teaching, but there are disadvantages as well. Because this post ended up being a tad longer than I had expected, I’m going to break it up into three parts. In Part 1, I’ll introduce discussion boards and how to effectively incorporate them into your classes. In Parts 2 and 3, I’ll discuss their advantages and disadvantages, respectively.
Several years ago, when I was first experimenting with using online technology for teaching, I decided to use the discussion board feature that was built into BlackBoard. Naïve instructor that I was, I thought, “I’ll just post a question and watch as all of the insightful comments roll in!” I should point out that it was not required and I did not set any specific guidelines. Well, it didn’t work. At all. A grand total of 2 or 3 students posted.
What is the moral of the story? Don’t do what I did. Instead, make posting to the discussion board a course requirement and set very specific guidelines. To illustrate, here is what I now include in my syllabus:
You will be required to participate in the online discussion board during the five designated discussion board weeks (see schedule below; Discussion Board column). On the discussion board, you will be discussing various topics related to the readings and the online lectures. I will assign a specific topic, which I will post on Desire2Learn [add link: www.desire2learn.com]. Your posts should relate to that topic. Your discussion board posts are due by 11:59pm (EST) on the FRIDAY of the week they appear in the Schedule below. For example, your first posts will be due by 11:59pm (EST) on Feb 3rd (the Friday of Week 2). Posts after this time will not receive any credit. In order to receive full credit, you will need to create 1 new discussion board post and respond to at least 2 posts. You will receive 5 points for the post that you create and 2.5 points for each of the posts that you respond to, for a total of 10 points. READ THIS AGAIN! You need to POST THREE TIMES in order to get full credit. I will grade your discussion board posts Pass/Fail. That is, in order to receive the 5 points for a new post, that post must be thoughtful and well-written. If it is not, you will receive 0 points. In order to receive the 2.5 points for a response, that post must also be thoughtful, well-written, and ADD to the discussion. (A response of simply “I agree” does NOT add to the discussion.)
A Request: PLEASE DO NOT wait until the last minute to post. If everyone waits until the last minute, there would be nothing to respond to! I will post the topics by 9am on the Mondays of Discussion Board weeks, so there will be plenty of time to read, post, think, and post again. Think of it as a virtual coffee shop. Come in, take in the sights, have a drink, offer your thoughts, leave when you’re done, and come back often! (Just be sure that all of your posts are completed by the assigned Fridays at 11:59pm.)
Despite some minor inevitable confusion (“Why didn’t I get 10 points?”), my incorporation of discussion boards has been relatively successful. I should point out that discussion boards can be an effective addition to ANY class, whether it’s online or face-to-face.
At this point, you may be wondering what you might ask students to post about. I have tried three slightly different approaches here. First, in my Intro I/O class, I have asked students to respond to very specific, critical-thinking style questions about the course material. Second, in my graduate-level I/O class, I have simply told students that they need to post their thoughts about the current week’s readings. This works at the graduate level very well, but I wouldn’t recommend it at the undergraduate level where students tend to appreciate a bit more guidance. Third, I have used discussion boards in writing emphasis classes and have asked students to reflect about different parts of the writing process and to share their ideas with one another.
Now that I’ve introduced some ways that you might effectively incorporate discussion boards into your classes, in my next post I will discuss the advantages of doing so, for both teachers and students.