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Writing A+ Discussion Board Posts in Online Courses Make the Grade with These Discussion Board Tips

Students who enroll in online degree programs may be concerned that they will miss out on the interaction that is found in traditional degree programs. 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 professors grade the posts students make.

Meet the Experts

Anne Adcock Associate Professor at the Carver School of Social Work at Campbellsville University
Mitchell Langbert Associate Professor at Brooklyn College
David L. Stoloff Ph.D., professor in the Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University

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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 professor, as they would if they were in a traditional classroom. This helps students absorb the class material and share ideas.

The students in a class and the instructor 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 professors expect.

  • Get to know each other

    “Your first post should be a way of introducing yourself to your learning community,” said David L. Stoloff, Professor in the Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University who teaches online courses in the Educational Technology master’s program. “Also see if you can connect your life experiences to the course content and still respond to the topic raised in the discussion forum.”

  • 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

    “Express yourself as clearly as possible. That means use correct grammar to the best of your ability, avoid acronyms and slang, and proofread your writing, possibly referring to dictionaries and grammar sources,” said Mitchell Langbert, Associate Professor at Brooklyn College who teaches undergraduate human resources and management courses online.

  • 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 take it seriously,” said Anne Adcock, Associate Professor and the Bachelor Program Director at the Carver School of Social Work at Campbellsville University. “Answer the writing prompt completely. Give some thought to what you are going to type—apply the course readings to your response. This demonstrates that you are digesting the reading and thinking about it in a way that will allow you to apply the knowledge in practice.”

  • Disagree respectfully

    “If you disagree with someone, agree with part of their point first, and respectfully outline specific points on which you offer specific evidence that shows your point,” said Langbert. “Be descriptive, not vague; be specific rather than global. Avoid the use of adjectives in describing another’s work, although an occasional compliment is useful.”

  • Be polite

    Just because students are interacting online doesn’t mean they should forget their manners. Asking for helping politely, and thanking their peers when they get it, can help to create a strong community among students that helps them learn.

  • Be substantive

    “Do not start your response with trivial statements like ‘I loved your post’ or ‘I really enjoyed your post’ or ‘Great post’. Instead respond in a way that recognizes what the classmate has stated specifically,” Adcock said. “Then, continue the response by adding to the original post or presenting a different perspective. The response should continue the discussion, not simply compliment the original post.”

  • 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

    “Your first response should be to the instructor’s prompt that usually requests the examination of ideas and resources, and the development of connections to the course,” said Stoloff. “Then if the instructor encourages course interactions, comment politely and supportively to the responses of others in the discussion. Seek to make connections between your responses and the responses of others.”

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.

  • Not being thorough.

    “Many students simply do not address the writing prompt thoroughly in their post. Sometimes a prompt will require that a student addresses two to three points, but students don’t do that,” said Adcock. “Responses also are sometimes written in a way that does not reflect that they have read the original post well. The response does not continue the discussion. Responses often appear rushed and unplanned. Students should put effort into their posts and responses in a way that adds to the learning of both them and their classmates.”

  • Getting too personal.

    Although some of the topics covered in a class may remind students of personal experiences, an online discussion board is not the appropriate forum to discuss their problems or ask for advice on issues not related to the course. Students should limit their conversation to the relevant topics and avoid discussing their personal lives in too much detail.

  • Making posts too long.

    “Unless there is a word count required by the instructor, try to develop shorter posts, much shorter than a screen-worth of information,” Stoloff said. “Please be polite and supportive, commenting and connecting the ideas of others into new learning for oneself and the community.”

  • Procrastination.

    Waiting until the last minute to make a required post can decrease the quality of the conversation about a subject. Posting earlier allows other students to respond to a post and engage in debates that help everyone in the class get the most out of the conversation.

  • Not paying attention.

    “One mistake students make is not doing the reading or assignment in advance. I once had a student who did not read an assigned case study about Sonoco, a packaging company, and made a post about Sunoco, a gasoline company,” said Langbert. “Another mistake is not reading other students’ posts and responding to points already made. Instead, many students repeat points already made without acknowledging that they are repeating the same ideas. Naturally, these don’t get full credit.”

Check out the following examples to get an idea of a thoughtful discussion board post versus a failing post:

Example of a Good Discussion Post

Goffman says “The expressiveness capacity to give impressions appears to involve two radically different kinds of sign activity: the expression that he gives, and the expression that he gives off” (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, p. 2). This relates to social media because sometimes people may think they are posting one thing, but the public takes it differently. One recent example of this was when Roseanne Barr posted what she thought was a harmless joke on Twitter. She said she was only kidding when she compared Valerie Jarrett to an ape, and according to The New York Times, she claimed she thought Jarrett was Jewish and Persian, not African American. Nonetheless, the expression she thought she was giving (a joke) was not the one people thought she was giving off (a racist comment), which made her lose her job.

Example of a Bad Discussion Post

WRONG!!!!! Based on book it clear he was dumb & didn’t not understand the way people actually live life. I have a Facebook page for long time & I can tell U I don’t act like this & my friends don’t either cuz we ain’t all fake. The people who agreeing w/this R fake & don know how 2 be a real person online. There ain’t no proof that the way ppl act on soc media is different then how they act IRL. U gotta be stoopid to belive this 😛

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.