How To Use An Online Discussion Board

Updated September 20, 2022

How To Use An Online Discussion Board

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How to Start a Discussion Post

Students attending classes virtually may be concerned about missing out on the interactions found in a traditional classroom setting. However, these students still benefit from class discussions through online discussion boards, which allow them to create original posts about a course topic and respond to the posts of other students. This guide provides information on what students can expect when using an online discussion board, the etiquette to follow on these boards, and how instructors grade the posts students make.

Discussion Board Examples

Example of a Good Discussion Post

Discuss your thoughts on the most recent reading and respond to a peer's comment:

I thought the most recent reading spoke to the importance of caring about the environment. In the reading the author made several good points about how individuals who learn more about ecosystems, and how reducing plastic waste helps these ecosystems, are more likely to reduce their own plastic use. I appreciated Brandon's perspective when he wrote about how he used to only use single-use plastic, but is now striving to use recycled materials and more sustainable methods in his own home.

Example of a Bad Discussion Post

Discuss your thoughts on the most recent reading and respond to a peer's comment:

I liked the reading, it was good. I did not like Brandon's post cause he said he uses plastic and obviously that's wrong. Anyway, the article was interesting and talked about the environment.

The Discussion Board's Role in the Online Classroom

There are many things that students may want to know before participating in a discussion board for an online class. The following are answers to some of the questions they may have.

What are discussion boards for online courses?

Discussion boards for online classes give students the opportunity to talk about course topics with each other, and with the instructor, as they would if they were in a traditional classroom. This helps students absorb the class material and share ideas.

Who participates in online discussion boards?

The students in a class and the instructor participate in online discussion boards.

Why is it important for students to participate in online discussion boards?

The discussions that take place on a class forum can help students better understand the course material. Also, students have the opportunity to practice their communication skills, connect with their peers, get used to using proof to bolster their arguments, and sharpen critical thinking abilities.

Are online discussion boards only for online students?

Generally, online discussion boards are used in lieu of face-to-face discussions. However, depending on the course, online discussion boards may also be required in traditional and hybrid classes in order to increase student engagement.

Should discussion forum posts be formal?

Although discussion forum posts don't have to be as formal as term papers and other assignments, they also should not be too casual. Students should still pay attention to things like sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and punctuation when they write their posts.

Are students allowed to debate with their peers on online discussion boards?

Yes, but students should remember the online boards for their courses are not the same as social media discussions. Students can disagree with each other, but they should always be respectful and avoid attacking each other personally.

Do posts on online discussion boards have to be long?

Not necessarily. In some cases, an instructor will require a certain number of words, but it's usually best to make the posts just long enough to make a strong point.

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Discussion Board Etiquette & Tips for Success

Just as traditional students should follow certain etiquette in the classroom, online students engaging in discussions on a board are expected to behave appropriately. The following are some tips to help students create posts and responses, so they do well in their online courses, while following standards that instructors expect.

When Posting

Get to know each other
When first beginning a discussion board, students should offer a brief introduction including some appropriate background information. They should also answer any questions the instructor has asked.
Use Simple Formatting
When it comes to formatting, students should keep it as simple as possible by avoiding fonts that are difficult to read. This ensures that everyone can easily read the points being made and keep the discussion flowing..
Post with Clarity
When posting online, students should strive to use correct grammar and appropriate language. Before posting a response or questions, students should read their response for clarity.
Avoid Jokes
When posting on the Internet, it can be difficult to know when someone is joking because readers can't see the person's nonverbal communication — and online discussion boards are no exception to this issue. In order to avoid confusion and risk offending others in the class, it's best to avoid jokes and sarcasm when posting.
Be serious about the assignment
Students should be prepared when answering a response and offer serious insight in their posting. Often, in an online discussion board, it can be difficult to read sarcasm or to know if the student is offering sincere feedback. Taking an assignment seriously shows the instructor that a student is invested in the course.

When Responding to a Peer

Disagree respectfully
If a student disagrees with their peer, it's important to be respectful. Using phrasing like "I respect your opinion, but I believe…" can show that a student is willing to have an open conversation.
Be Polite
Just because students are interacting online doesn't mean they should forget their manners. Asking for help politely, and thanking their peers when they get it, can help to create a strong community among students that helps them learn.
Be substantive
Consider the length of a response when posting in a discussion board. Students should strive to respond to their peers with a thoughtful response and consider asking questions. A one-word or one-sentence response can show a lack of engagement.
Provide Proof
Whenever students respond to a post, or make an original one, they should back up their statements with evidence—including quotes or statistics—from the class readings or any additional research they have done on the post's topic. This can be done by providing a citation for books or journal articles, as well as posting links to where readers can find the information being referenced in the post. When citing a source, students should remember to include the work's name, author, and page number where the information can be found.
Respond to prompts first
When responding to peers in a discussion post, students should strive to answer any assigned prompts first. Once the assigned prompt is answered students should then take the time to respond to their peers.

Common Online Discussion Board Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Students who are not used to online courses are likely to make some mistakes when they participate in a discussion board. The following are some mistakes that students should know about in order to avoid them.

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Role of Teachers Using Discussion Boards

When it comes to discussion boards, there are a lot of options. Choosing the best discussion board website can vary by instructor, major, or institution. Instructors working in science or data may want to consider using an interactive discussion board website. While teachers who are more comfortable with video conferencing and prefer lecture and video formats may want to consider an app that supports video calls. Below are just a few of the discussion board options for classrooms.

Discussion Board Tools for Teachers

Instructor Input: How Online Discussion Posts are Graded

Ultimately, students who are required to participate in online discussion boards have to think about how their posts will affect their grades. In order to provide a perspective on how these posts may be marked, we received input from the following experts:

Anne Adcock

Associate Professor and the Bachelor Program Director at the Carver School of Social Work at Campbellsville University

Mitchell Langbert

Associate Professor at Brooklyn College who teaches undergraduate human resources and management courses online

David L. Stoloff

Professor in the Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University who teaches online courses in the Educational Technology master's program

What do professors expect from students on class discussion boards?

Adcock: The expectations are a certain word count, evidence that they have read the related readings or viewed the related videos and a demonstration of critical thinking regarding the discussion prompt. In responses, I expect that they are specifically written with the original post in mind and also include the required number of words and a demonstration that they are thinking critically about the subject matter.

Langbert: I look for clarity of expression, correct grammar and punctuation, avoidance of repeating the same idea over, creativity, careful reading of the material, and ideas that are better than mine.

Stoloff: Professors expect positive interactions that reflect their understandings of the course materials and their social skills in connecting with the ideas of others. We expect full sentences, accurate spelling and grammar, and original thought in each post.

How are discussion board posts graded?

Adcock: I utilize a simple rubric for my discussion boards. Requirements are awarded for clarity and organization of post, critical thinking, and word count/grammar.

Langbert: I use a grading system of 0 (no participation), 1 (did not do the reading but made a college try at answering), 2 (misunderstood or poor grammar), 3 (good but unoriginal or inadequate grammar), and 4 (good grammar, clear thinking, and original).

Stoloff: Some professors just count the number of posts as the grade—a measure of quantity and interactions. Some provide a rubric and assess a quality grade for the posts.

What causes students to get points for their discussion board posts?

Adcock: A student that satisfies the rubric requirements and demonstrates they have completed any related reading requirements and applies that knowledge to their post typically receives the maximum number of points possible.

Langbert: Students often think that quantity is most important. A student who writes two pages on a discussion board post can be impressive, but that is not necessary. Originality and insight can often be expressed in a few sentences. As well, it's easier to correct a few sentences grammatically than it is to correct two pages.

Stoloff: Evidence of activity in the discussion and integrating course ideas are key measures for points.

What causes students to lose points for their discussion board posts?

Adcock: Not meeting the word requirement, not answering the writing prompt thoroughly, not connecting their post to the reading assignment and poor grammar all contribute to a loss of points.

Langbert: When I see ten students make nearly identical points, naturally they do not get the highest grade. When I see bad grammar, students lose credit.

Stoloff: Non-participation before the closing date/time of the discussion and evidence of copying their ideas from their own posts and from others.

How can students increase their chances of getting high marks on their discussion board posts?

Adcock: The most important thing a student can do is to take these assignments seriously and not wait until the last minute to complete them. Making sure they answer the writing prompt thoroughly is also crucial.

Langbert: Read the material or do the assignment. Then, look at what the other students are saying. Integrate a couple of points from your fellow students, but say something new and imaginative. Possibly integrate additional information from related outside reading, but show that you've read the assignment as well. Write well.

Stoloff: Responses in a timely fashion, the connection of the ideas of others to the course information and one's own life experiences, and the use of appropriate humor and fellowship enhance the discussion and one's credit.

Additional Resources for Online Student Success

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