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Best Practices for Discussion Boards recommendations from faculty and instructional designers for effective discussions in online courses

Types of Discussions

Discussions are often set up for one the following purposes:

  • Discussion on a Specific Topic: Students respond to an instructor-written prompt related to course topics/readings. Typically visible through full course but posts and replies are asked for by specific dates. Typically graded. All students see full discussion.
  • Group Discussion on a Specific Topic: Students respond to an instructor-written prompt related to course topics/readings. Typically visible through full course but posts and replies are asked for by specific dates. Typically graded. Students only see the posts and replies of those in their assigned group. Instructor can see all groups' boards. Groups may also be set up so that they can initiate their own discussions.
  • Student Introductions: Students introduce themselves to the rest of the class and respond to any questions the instructor poses, ranging from relevant experience to motivation to playful get-to-know-you icebreakers ("Why did you sign up for this class? What do you hope to learn? What experience do you have in this area? Favorite movie? What would the soundtrack for your life be?"). May have students use Canvas Media Recorder to record video or audio of themselves. Typically ungraded or marked complete/incomplete. Posts and replies asked for by specific dates. All students see full discussion.
  • Technical Help: Students post technical problems experienced during the course. Visible and accepts posts and replies throughout the whole course. Typically ungraded. All students see full discussion.
  • Current Events: Instructor and students post Visible and accepts posts and replies throughout the whole course. Typically ungraded. All students see full discussion.
  • "Watercooler" or "Course Cafe": Students can initiate posts about anything, even informal social sharing unrelated to course topics. Meant to build community. Visible and accepts posts and replies throughout the whole course. Ungraded. All students see full discussion.

Some Creative Ideas

You may wish to try offering a different spin on discussion prompts.

Debate. Try setting up a debate: organize students into groups, assign them a side, and require that each group post one post on behalf of their group as their opening argument. Then they can respond to other groups.

Media. Consider embracing media: ask that students use the Canvas Media Recorder to post a 2-minute or less video in response to a post rather than written comments. Then they can reply to peers in written comments. You can use this tool, too! Canvas Media Recorder for Instructors | Canvas Media Recorder for Students

Imagery. Ask students to post an image representing their reaction to an idea and a 2-3 sentence explanation of why they chose the particular image.

BEFORE: Setting Expectations

Create a "Discussion Expectations" page for the whole course. You can then link back to this page in each discussion as a reminder. You may copy and paste the example text to adapt and use in your own online course.

Interaction

The expectation is that in discussion forums for this class you will have an opportunity to dialogue about ideas impacting the study of COURSE TITLE/DISCIPLINE. You will do this by composing new thoughts, reflecting on your reactions to ideas, asking questions, linking to relevant resources, citing ideas from readings, and considering the strengths and weaknesses of others' statements.

You are required to critique the comments or analysis of two other students after they are posted. This discussion is set so that you will not be able to see their posts until you have submitted your own. Your choice of classmates to reply to can vary.

Remember your classmates are real people with emotions. Read your response aloud before posting to ensure you are being respectful.

Quality

Simply responding with “I concur” or “You’ve covered it all” may be your sincere opinion, but please offer more in a collegial manner. Did the other students miss something in their analysis? Push yourself to advance your colleagues’ thought and thereby your own.

Please be critical of other student papers and present your views in a polite, respectful manner. Consider citing sources your colleague may have omitted or misapplied, offering alternative interpretations of developments, and opening up new lines of approach to the problem set.

If you cite others' ideas, including previous discussion posts, you must use quotation marks and describe the source. In this way you avoid taking credit for ideas which are not your own, which is plagiarism.

Timeliness

Your initial post will be due each week on Thursday by 11:59pm. Your two or more replies to peers are due each week on Sunday by 11:59pm.

Length

Your replies should be no more than a half-page (125–175 words). Aspire to do as Nietzsche says: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”

Format

Use proper spelling and grammar to ensure your points will be understood clearly. Use appropriate netiquette (for example, do not put statements in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or else this is perceived as yelling).

Evaluating Discussions

Rubrics

Setting up a rubric per discussion in Canvas carries multiple benefits:

  • Expedites grading, as you can use Canvas SpeedGrader to rapidly cycle through student discussions to enter grades
  • Makes grading requirements transparent to students which should reduce questions they pose to the instructor about how a grade was calculated
  • Reinforces discussion expectations which should modify student behavior in discussions

If you set up a rubric, be sure to follow it. For the first 1-2 discussions, students may ignore the rubric and respond based on how they believe a discussion to work based on past experience. As they see you grade according to the rubric, they should adjust their responses to meet expectations.

Approaches to Evaluating Discussions

You can evaluate discussions in different ways according to your preference and what meets the learning objectives best.

Commonly, there is a rubric attached to each discussion. This is the same rubric regardless of prompt. Each discussion may be 0, 1, or 2 points or another set of low values that total up. The benefit of this approach is grading each discussion is quick. Each discussion can be grouped together in the Assignments section into an Assignment group called "Discussion," and this can be weighted against other assignments in the course.

There may also be the option to have a single column in the gradebook for "Discussion" (set up in Canvas as an assignment with no submission) and to set each discussion as Complete/Incomplete. You can holistically review each students' participation in discussions at the end of the semester. The disadvantage of this approach is that students do not have a running total of how they are doing with discussions, but an advantage is it may expedite time spent grading and allow for a more holistic view.

Example Rubric for Post with Peer Feedback

The following is a rubric from an actual online course used for a single discussion and repeated for each academic discussion in the course. Feel free to use and modify this rubric.

First category: Original Post. Rating of 3, 2, or 1. 0 = Undeveloped: Does not post. 1 = Minimal: Addresses only a small part or none of the prompt. Missing one of the following: Provides evidence of readings and class concepts. Contributes own original thoughts rather than only repeating ideas from readings or others. 2 = Developing: Addresses most parts of the prompt. Missing one of the following: Provides evidence of readings and class concepts. Contributes own original thoughts rather than only repeating ideas from readings or others. 3 = Well-Developed: Addresses all parts of the prompt. Provides evidence of readings and class concepts. Contributes own original thoughts rather than only repeating ideas from readings or others. Second category: Constructive Critique. Rating of 0, 1, or 2. 0 = Undeveloped: Does not reply to peers. 1 = Developing: Reads peer's work but doesn't provide useful ideas, questions, or feedback. May only provide positive feedback with no suggestions for improvement or questions. 2 = Well-Developed. Critiques peer work, not just replies. Asks thoughtful, probing questions. Gives suggestions. Gives honest, supporting feedback.

How to Add a Rubric to a Graded Discussion in Canvas

How do I add a rubric to a graded discussion? Note: Once you have set up one rubric, you can reuse it for multiple discussions.

How do I grade a graded discussion in SpeedGrader?

How Does a Student View the Rubric for a Discussion?

Students cannot easily see the rubric for a discussion; it does not display under a discussion as it does for an assignment. You may wish to share this link with them so they know how to view their rubric before posting to a discussion:

How do I view the rubric for my graded discussion?

DURING: Managing Discussions

Frequently Asked Questions for Managing Discussions

Do I need to respond to every student's post and reply in a discussion?

No. You may select some which are particularly outstanding to commend them publicly to the class. You may select some which are vague to respond with probing questions and drive them to deeper thought. You may correct misunderstandings by responding to them on the discussion board if others may have the same misconception or emailing the student individually outside of the discussion board. You may choose not respond to any of them if students have engaged sufficiently.

Similar to the idea behind trimming hedges, you can let the discussion be free-flowing or manage its direction by gently redirecting students, probing deeper, and challenging their thoughts. Generally it's recommended to engage more in the early discussions so they see you are involved and will adjust their discussions to your expectations.

Canvas only allows me to set one due date; should I put in the due date for the students' first post or the due date for their replies to peers?

You can do either so long as you're consistent. Many faculty set the due date for the first post.

After: Feedback and Improvement

Taking the Temperature of the Discussions Afterwards

Are the discussions going well, from your perspective? Often times faculty have noticed these common issues:

  • ISSUE: Students continually reply to peers with "I agree" or other statements which do not contribute original thought. Suggested solution: Point out the rubric and ensure it specifically states contributing original thought; if they do not ask a question or provide a new idea, don't assign them full points. In your feedback you can say briefly something along the lines of, "Thank you for affirming your peers' ideas. For full points, also ask an insightful question or share a new, related idea." They should begin to improve after 1-2 discussions.
  • ISSUE: Students wait until the last minute to post and reply to peers on the same day. Suggested solution: Be sure you've clearly announced the post date and reply date; these need to be two separate dates with typically 1-2 days separating them.
  • ISSUE: Responses from most students don't address all parts of the prompt. Suggested solution: Consider the following questions: Is the prompt too lengthy or involved for a discussion post and more suited to a paper? Are the parts labeled clearly in the prompt, such as with a numbered list? Is the prompt worded clearly?
  • ISSUE: One student always responds in excessive length but doesn't give meaningful ideas. Suggested solution: Address this by grading them appropriately according to the rubric. Emphasize again the appropriate range for a discussion post.
  • ISSUE: Students respond with videos that are far too long, resulting in excessive time spent grading. Suggested solution: Reemphasize a time limit for videos (2 minutes or less) and encourage being succinct, scripting their words ahead of time. If they still cannot do so, consider adding time limit adherence as a graded category within the rubric.
Created By
Susie Boles
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