Discussion is often taken for granted in online courses, yet creating an engaging discussion and facilitating interaction over the whole semester remain among the most challenging aspects of teaching online. For hybrid courses, another challenge is to integrate online asynchronous discussion in a meaningful way so as to enhance on-campus class time.

Sean Stein Smith

View the recording of  Maintaining Momentum and Engagement in Online Discussion webinar co-hosted by with Sean Stein Smith, Assistant Professor, Economics and Business.

The Why of Online Discussions by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education

The How of Online Discussions by Naliza Sadik, Educational Technologist | Instructional Designer, Office of Online Education

Faculty Experience with Online Discussions by with Sean Stein Smith, Assistant Professor, Economics and Business

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of the webinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

Online discussion helps maintain momentum in the class and keeps students engaged by allowing the instructor to provide ongoing feedback, requiring students to interact with the instructor and classmates on a regular basis, and keeping students on-task through discussions directly related to topics and readings. It also provides an important venue in fully online classes for the instructor and students to make their presence felt, and contributes to the sense of a shared online classroom experience.

Blackboard Discussion forums can be used for debates, presentations, and small group work as well as for “just discussion.” VoiceThread is a good option for discussion centered around images or for comments on presentations. Blogs  best for when the text presentation has priority over the discussion.

Here are some additional tips for creating an engaging and meaningful discussion:

  • Discussion prompts should require more than one answer - otherwise better to use quizzes
  • Instructor participation should be regular but measured, offering feedback and follow up
  • Interest in discussion can be stimulated through regular reminders and reasonable rewards for on time participation
  • In hybrid courses, use discussion in preparation for or as a follow-on to on-campus class meetings
  • Make discussion participation requirements reasonable for the time and pacing involved
  • Consider creating a two-step discussion where students have to post an original response first, and then respond to at least two of their classmates
  • Always clarify the expectations for participation in regard to length, formality, other requirements
  • Provide examples and guidelines for student moderating discussion

The Discussion forums in Blackboard offer full threaded discussion opportunities and many set up options that can help you shape the quality of the discussion. For example, forums can be viewed in different ways, can be marked, sorted, and searched to aid in reading and monitoring. Faculty can choose to have graded or ungraded discussions and can associate discussions with rubrics for easier grading. There are also options like allowing students to tag posts or to require them to post their own thread first before reading others--useful for when students are presenting their work to othersVoiceThread is another tool integrated with Blackboard, one that allows greater flexibility for discussion by video, text, or audio. Both instructors and students can present and comment. Blogs in Blackboard are particularly good for promoting reflective activities, can be private or shared, allow for comments, and can be graded or ungraded.

Our faculty co-host, Sean Stein Smith shared his experience with using discussion for diverse purposes in his courses in business, accounting, and finance. He emphasized that one can keep students better engaged by tying discussions to the real world, using such approaches as bringing in outside articles, raising “hot topics,” and linking to relevant videos. For technical subjects, it helps to break down the topics into manageable parts, providing relatable and familiar examples to understand underlying concepts.

In regard to structuring discussion, he recommended establishing rules, expectations, and a framework for participation like word count, frequency of posts, quality or content of posts. Finally, an important element of motivation is added by making the discussion grade a substantial portion of the final grade.

Blackboard Discussions - Learn more about Blackboard Discussions including how to respond to discussions, grade discussions, etc.

Blackboard: Create a Discussion Forum - Step-by-step guidelines on how to create a discussion forum.

Blogs - Explore the blog tool in Blackboard.

VoiceThread - Learn more about this interactive tool including instructions on how to set-up VoiceThread in your course.