Tips from the Pros: Ideas for Creating Engaging Discussion Boards

At the University of Wisconsin’s Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, Francesca Catalano, associate professor and faculty director of STEM at the American Public University System, offered the following ways to engage students in the discussion board:

  • Make the discussion relevant. Your students may not have as strong an interest in the topic of your course as you do. To increase their interest, find ways to link ideas from the course to current events and remind students how the content is related to their career goals. 
  • Use social media to link articles and events to the discussion board. Catalano links to fellow biology instructors on developments in the field. She encourages students to follow her; however, university policy prevents her from requiring students to use social media and it can’t be used for graded exercises.
  • Appeal to multimodal learners. Videos and graphics can help stimulate discussion. Keep the videos short—no more than 10 minutes.
  • Assign a student leader for each discussion. This encourages collaboration.
  • Provide a discussion summary. Students can be overwhelmed by too much information in the discussion forum. It helps if you provide a summary of each discussion.
  • Don’t grade like a copy editor. Proper grammar is important and should be graded, but it should not be the main focus in graded discussion boards.
  • Use ungraded discussion boards. Not all discussion boards need to be graded. Use discussion boards to provide support (e.g., research paper help), build community, and generate interest (e.g., Catalano has had discussion boards on science and football and science in the movies).

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