Discussion forums can be the heart and soul of the online classroom where students interact with one another to form a sense of community. Forums can also facilitate a safe learning space for students to flourish and learn. This is especially important for hybrid learning since the remote learning element can be quite isolating and lonely compared to a face-to-face classroom where students can see classmates and you at the same time. By using engaging forums, you can cut down on the feeling of isolation and create a more engaging experience.

Setting up a discussion forum also has some of it’s own unique benefits which you might not be aware of, including, and not limited to:

  • Because comments are more permanent, students tend to think a bit more critically about what they say.
  • Especially for more introverted students, online discussions can be less intimidating than speaking in front of the class.
  • It’s easier for students to share dissenting opinions or “outside-the-box” ideas.
  • As students type responses, they often recognise and share more nuanced and compelling points and arguments.
  • Anonymous posting (though still tutor-moderated), a key feature with some discussion tools, can help erase the fear of public judgment or ridicule.
  • Everyone has ample opportunities to be heard and connect with other classmates, ensuring equity among all voices in your classroom.

Forum structure

If you are new to discussion forums, a forum usually consists of a tree-like directory. The top end is “categories”, which represent the relevant discussions. Under the categories are sub-forums and these sub-forums can further have more sub-forums. The topics (commonly called threads) come under the lowest level of sub-forums and these are the places under which members can start their discussions or posts. Logically forums are organised into a finite set of generic topics (usually with one main topic) driven and updated by a group known as members and governed by a group known as moderators. It can also have a graph structure. A forum is made of the USER GROUPS which are the different users that have access to the forum, the POSTS which are the messages submitted to the forums by the different users, and the THREADS which are topics for which a user can submit a post.

You can easily create a Discussion Forum in Blackboard by following the Blackboard video guide link which will take you through the process:

Participate in the “Student Lounge”

Try and respond to individual posts or bunch them together and write a group response. It might be a good opportunity to talk about your professional background as an ice-breaker and an initial point of interest to engage your students. Your students will model how you relate to them. Follow-up on all questions either privately or publicly.

Photos, images, videos, links and tweets

Inclusion of different types of media can help to illustrate a point, create more conversation, inject humour, or just for fun. It also adds an element of interactivity to make content more interesting and engaging.

Read all about it

Try to read through as many posts as you can. You don’t have to respond to them all but by reading the posts you can gain an excellent insight into how your learners are interacting and what learning is taking place.

Responding to students with a question, affirmation or feedback

To replicate on-campus learning experiences online, respond frequently to your students individually, whether it’s private or public. This shows that you value them and allows you to identify at-risk students. Highlight the good points your students have made. Your interaction encourages students to post more often and stay engaged.

Challenging questions

Discussions are driven by a question. Guide your students to go deeper and think critically about the subject matter outside of what is provided in the course materials. You can read more about nurturing student creativity and building resilience here: https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2020/05/11/nurturing-student-creativity/

Peer review/collaborative activities

You can use a range of peer review and assessment activities with a discussion forum. These can range from students providing feedback and constructive criticism on each other’s practice test papers, to providing feedback on group projects. Learners can be a valuable source of support and bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the learning table and can exchange information and insights for the benefit of their peers.

You can read more about how to use collaborative learning to improve learner support here: https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2020/07/15/collaborative-learning-to-improve-learner-support/

Don’t forget to check

Periodically ask your students what’s good (or bad) about a particular discussion. How is it working/or not working for them? What could be improved? When you ask, be sure to acknowledge and act on their comments if needed.

If you require any further help, contact Elearning@tees.ac.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *