While the instant back and forth that can arise in a particularly good face-to-face class discussion cannot quite be captured online through asynchronous methods, Discussion Boards and other forums can create opportunities for students to engage richly with texts and with each other.
To encourage deeper critical engagement, try to keep the following principles in mind when writing discussion prompts:
- Aim for open-ended questions rather than reiterations of content:
- That is, don’t ask: What is Smith’s main point in “Why Do I Have to Read This Essay Anyway?”
- Instead, you might ask: Which of Smith's arguments did you find most convincing? Why?
- Ask students to relate one text to another to deepen the conversation.
- Break the class up into groups and assign different questions or texts to different groups to broaden the discussion.
- Use the technology to make it less tempting for students to simply echo each other's ideas by setting the Discussion Board so that students must write their own post before being able to see those by classmates. (To do this, check the option for: "Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum” when you set up the Discussion Board.)
- Provide clear instructions both for the initial posting AND for the reply. More successful replies might ask students to bring in another text (what would Jones say to these points raised by Smith?) or ask students to respond directly to concerns/questions their classmates have raised in the initial postings.
- Indicate how long the postings and replies should be and what approach, exactly, you expect students to take.
- Decide how you want to award credit (and do consider doing it in such a way that you do NOT have to individually reply to each posting!) Consider whether a rubric might be helpful or if you would like to find a way to sum up your responses to the Discussion Board through an announcement, posting of your own, video re-cap, or other approach.
Resources on Discussion Prompts
- General Suggestions from Flower Darby
- Model Prompts from Scott Warnock’s blog on teaching writing online
- Building Student-Student Interactions from the University of Waterloo
- Sample Rubrics from the University of Florida
- Fixing Common Problems with the Online Discussions Doctor by Laura March and Mark Anthoney
- General Principles for Discussion Boards from Victoria Nesnick
- Tutorial on Setting up Discussion Board in Blackboard