Discussion Boards

Traditional Discussion Boards

There are many way to utilize traditional, text-based discussion boards. Below is a sampling of how an online discussion board might be utilized.

  • Welcome/Introduction Forum – students share information about their background, answer an introductory question about the course and/or interest in the course.
  • Pre-work – have students generate questions about readings/content prior to face-to-face class meeting.
  • Course readings review – discuss course readings, weekly ideas, etc.
  • Resource sharing – place for students and faculty to share interesting or useful information with each other.
  • Projects preparation – in groups or individually students could help each other brainstorm about course projects and receive feedback from classmates.
  • “Twitter review” – in 140 characters or less have students share one important point that they learned from a class meeting, group meeting, reading, activity, etc.
  • Reading summaries – for difficult or long readings have students work on different sections, then summarize what they learned for the class, easing the work for all, but allow students individually or in small groups interact more deeply with a smaller part of the content.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – allow students to have a place they can ask general course questions where classmates and the instructor can answer.
  • Exam reviews – have students generate questions that might appear on the exam and have others answer. Keep in mind that students will need to create open-ended questions.
  • Debates – discussion boards lend themselves well to having students debate topics relevant to the course. Students must research and develop clear arguments for or against the topic.
  • Current events – ask students to apply what they are learning to local events, demonstrating what they are learning is applicable to their community.

Media Discussion Boards

Infuse creativity and motivation into your discussion boards by asking your students to deliver their responses via video, infographics, or other digital media.  This is wonderful way to enhance students’ digital literacy.  The Web 2.0 tools listed below are excellent options for your students to learn and share content from.  These tools provide embed codes for sharing, which your students can then embed into their discussion board replies (or simply provide the link).

  • YouTube (how to record video) Free online video hosting website students can use to record via webcam or only audio. Students can keep their videos “private” by setting them to be unlisted, which allows anyone with the link to view the video, but search engines will not list the videos.
  • Pixton Users can easily create comics to tell a story. Add speech bubbles to characters. Edit the shape and position of panels as well as the characters. Users can even include own photos. Cartoons can be published for anyone or privately. Why is Pixton Pedagogically Interesting? (Pixton)
  • Screencast-O-Matic One-click screen capture recording on Windows or Mac computers with nothing to install. Record up to 15 minutes for free. Recordings can be hosted or downloaded. Hosted recordings may be set to unsearchable. Consider using it to record an audio explanation over a piece of artwork, or demonstration something on your computer. 7 Things you should know about Screencasting (Educause)
  • Piktochart Easily create beautiful infographics using pre-built template themes, backgrounds, and graphics. Can download image, share link, or embed. Free account charts are public. Great for visually displaying information about a topic.
  • ThingLink Easily create interactive images and videos for your websites, infographics, photo galleries, presentations and more. Images can be set to unlisted and shared using the URL. ThingLink for Education, scroll down to see examples.
  • Storify Simple aggregation of web-content, social media, images, videos, and gifs, that you simply drag and drop into your narrative. Fun, educational, creative, recommend using the aggregator to research a topic and create a stream-of-consciousness style story with the resulting media. Stories are public. How to Storify. Why to Storify. (Hybrid Pedagogy Journal)

Developing Effective Discussion Boards

  • Develop interesting, open-ended prompts that relate to students' experiences and interests. The questions should also allow students to reflect that support the course learning objectives. Reference Faculty Focus Online Discussion Questions that Work
  • Give students clear guidelines and expectations for postings (e.g., forum etiquette, content, deadlines, citations, etc.) When considering word count, emphasize quality over quantity. Posts that are too long often go unread, posts that are too short may add little to the discussion.
  • Use rubrics to help students understand and meet expectations. Rubrics will also streamline grading and assessment for the instructor. Example Rubircs: Online Discussion Protocols and Rubrics by Dr. Nada Dabbagh; Online Discussion Rubric by Lynn E. Nielsen, adapted by Joan Vandervelde. For additional information about rubrics read Discussion Board Rubrics by Middle Tennessee State University.
  • To foster ownership for the success of a discussion forum consider assigning a student or team of students to moderate the forum. (Depending on the complexity of the discussion topic.) Responsibilities would include keeping the discussion on-track, raising follow-up questions, calling out particularly insightful postings, etc.
  • Permitting creative responses to forum prompts, such as video responses, in addition to or in lieu of written replies. A related suggestion is to permit students to post an external resource (video, article, website, etc.), with an annotation explaining how it's relevant to the discussion instead of a written response on an optional or occasional basis.
  • In larger classes, break students into smaller discussion groups (typically no more than 7-10 students per group). Each group will discuss the prompt among themselves, then post their collective response to the main discussion forum to share with the rest of the class. The instructor can grade or respond to the group replies to help streamline participation in and assessment of the primary course forum. (Participation in the small-group forum could be assessed, as well.)
  • Offer a choice of prompts for each topic, so that students can pursue topics of personal interest/relevance.
  • Include current events and breaking new when appropriate to keep discussions fresh and interesting.
  • Collaborate with the class to develop rubrics, deadlines, and expectations/guidelines so that students are more invested in and feel more ownership of the activity.
  • Help students improve their discussion board participation include self and peer assessments as part of the discussions. Reference: Using Class Discussions to Improve Oral Communication Skills and Peer and Self-Evaluation of Participation in Discussion. Consider developing the peer assessments using anonymous surveys to allow students to respond openly. 

LMS Discussion Board Settings

  • Staggered due dates for original postings and responses to peers to ensure a more robust discussion.
  • Both Canvas and Blackboard allow instructors to set up the discussion board so that students cannot view other postings until they have made their original posting. Pro hidden postings: students must post original ideas prior to reading other’s responses and formulating their response. Con hidden posting: students can review other’s postings and formulate additional ideas prior to posting avoiding potential duplications of ideas.
  • Another setting option is to not allow students to edit original postings to prevent them from cheating the system. Some reasons for not allowing students to edit their posts is to consider the discussions similar to a discussion in the classroom, students cannot “take back” what was said, therefore cannot edit their posts. However, students are able to amend ideas through responses. Encourages students to be okay with errors and to think through their responses prior to posting. Instructor retains ability to edit/delete posts as needed.
  • Do not allow attachments as they typically go unread. (Unless part of the assignment.)

Role of the Instructor

  • Just like the classroom the instructor should participate in the discussion forum. Responding to every post can hinder a robust discussion, follow-up questions or encouraging students to elaborate on responses when appropriate is encouraged.
  • At the conclusion of the discussion summarize the key points, highlight insightful contributions, and acknowledge students’ excellent contributions. Summarizing the discussions reinforces the important points and can provide motivating feedback to students for their contributions. (This summary could also be assigned to a student.)

Role of the Student

  • Students are expected to participate in discussion boards respectfully and thoughtfully according to the goals of the discussion. Below are some guidelines that can be adopted to help students understand discussion board participation.
  • Student Guidelines for Discussion Board Writing by Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh University. Thoughtful guide for students on how to participate in an online discussion board.
  • Discussion Board Etiquette by Key Lehmann and Lisa Chamberlin, University of Wisconsin – Stout
  • The Discussion Board Etiquette video by Jake Dold is an excellent summary to introduce students to a discussion board.

Discussion Board Assignment Examples

  • Know Thy Selfie: Group Discussion Assignment: Students take selfies and answer questions in groups or alone about their selfies.
  • Icebreaker Activities: Get to know your students and have them get to know each other by using an icebreaker as a first discussion board activity. Icebreakers can facilitate introductions, foster community, assess prior knowledge, and help students learn how to use the discussion board. (Reference: Icebreakers) Depending on the icebreaker instructor may compile information and analyze the information for interesting facts about the class.
  • Faculty Focus has some suggestions for retaining course content that could be adapted for discussion board. Using Cumulative Exams to Help Students Revisit, Review, and Retain Course Content.
  • Save the Last Word for Me is a discussion board assignment that structures asynchronous discussions to help students better understand complex readings. 


There are a great deal of guides and research on how to develop discussions both online and face-to-face. Below are listed some of our favorite online resources.

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