Discussions are an excellent way to build online community, engage students in critical thinking about their course content and also offer you an opportunity to be present in student learning as you help guide discourse.
There are a variety of ways to setup discussion forums to facilitate the kind of learning experience you wish your students to have. To begin this process, we recommend that you evaluate your learning objectives to determine the best fit when it comes to how you will assess their contributions and also choose the type of forum and interaction they will have.
Steps for implementing online discussion forums:
- Identify your learning objectives and assessment criteria for what you would like your students to get out of their participation in discussion forums
- Create a rubric that will adequately assess student participation and demonstration of the learning criteria you identified in the learning objectives
- Select the type of forum format that will facilitate the learning goals you have outlined
- Develop clear instructions and expectations around discussion forum participation, such as frequency of posting, quality of posts, requirements for responding to peers, and netiquette
When you determine the criteria you will assess student participation and performance, it is easy to develop a simple rubric that allows you to efficiently and adequately grade their contributions. This is a great method for making your evaluation process transparent and easy for students to understand what is expected of them and where they may need to improve.
You can find many discussion board rubrics online and they range from simple to complex. Consider how high stakes these assignments are before assigning points and a rubric that others have made and/or modify it to meet your needs.
- University of Central Florida (TOPR) Discussion Rubrics
- Purdue University Sample Discussion Board Rubric
- University of Delaware Rubric for Asynchronous Discussion Participation
- Valencia College Discussion Rubric Example
Types of Discussion Forums
As mentioned earlier, what you are assessing will determine the type of online discussion forum you select.
Some common forum types include:
- Weekly reading responses
- Debate/taking sides of an argument
- Case study discussion
For a examples of the many kinds of forums you might choose, see:
- Northern Virginia Community College’s Types of Discussion Forums
- University of Wisconsin Extended Campus: Five New Twists For Online Discussions
Must Have Discussion Forums
To help facilitate online community and instructor presence, there are a couple of commonly used discussion forums in online courses.
Ask the Instructor/Course FAQ forum:
This forum is a general forum that is usually located at the top of the course page and/or with general course resources so students can easily find it. This forum is a place for students to ask questions about the course and to get clarification on assignment criteria and expectations. In this forum, they can ask you, the instructor, about things that their classmates may also be wondering and gives you the opportunity to answer it in a space where the rest of the class can access it to also gain clarity on these topics.
This alleviates the burden of multiple emails from multiple students being sent about the same or similar topics. By outlining your expectations clearly for the use of this forum and encouraging students to check it first, before emailing about certain course-specific questions, you will empower them to ask questions in this space when the topic is germane to the rest of the class.
In order to build an online community and instill instructor presence in the class, you will almost always find some type of “introductions” forum that takes place the first week of class. This is a forum where students (and the instructor) introduce themselves by answering some questions and sharing some personal information with the rest of the class to break the ice.
Questions might include (at your discretion, based on what is appropriate for your learners):
Where are you from?
What is your major?
What are you most excited about learning in this class?
What do you hope to get out of this class?
What are your hobbies?
Watch our WesternOnline webinar on implementing discussions into your online course.