Blackboard discussion boards are an asynchronous method of communication, where students can discuss ideas and thoughts, but they do not have to be in the same location.
Strengths/Advantages of online Discussion Forums
Discussion forums are a useful way of getting students to interact and engage with one another and their course content. They provide an alternative avenue to collaborate when students are not able to meet in real time, either on- or off-campus, and therefore, are a useful tool in these disruptive times. One advantage that online discussions have over face-to-face discussions is that every student can be required to participate, which is not feasible with the time constraints of a seminar or lecture. Consequently, all students, whether extrovert or quiet, have a chance to have their point heard. This can be important for students whose voices might be marginalised in classroom discussions.
Online discussions can give students time to reflect and post a response in their own time after they have had a chance to consider the view or argument being proposed.
A discussion forum can also provide a record to demonstrate a student’s progression or how their understanding on a subject has developed over the course of a module.
Different uses for Discussion Forums
Different ways of using discussion forums include:
- Icebreakers, to introduce students to one-another;
- Preliminary tasks, to introduce a new topic or activity, before the main activity;
- Project work, by providing a collaborative space;
- Debates, for students to deliberate their differing views, or different viewpoints held within your disciple;
- Assessments, both formative and summative are feasible;
- Reflection, either personal or based on themes from the course content; and also
Tips on effective use of Discussion Forums
The key to ensuring a discussion forum is successful is to align it with the students’ leaning outcomes and have an enthusiastic facilitator to moderate it. Provide a structure to the discussion board, as when a discussion forum has been carefully designed, and also includes prompts to motivate the students, it is more likely to support learning.
It will help if you consider the dynamics of your discussion before you set it up. Consider:
- What type of discussion is going to be held?
- How many students will be in each discussion group?
- Do you want to use the discussion board to build a sense of community?
- What kind of interactions do you expect the students to make?
- Will the discussion be assessed?
Small groups are useful for group-based activities, but can suffer if one or more members do not engage. Large groups are difficult to manage, but are more likely to include a diverse population and are not weakened by individuals not contributing. Therefore, online groups of 12-15 students encourage participation and can enable multiple viewpoints, without becoming difficult to facilitate.
It is also useful to consider the various roles that students can play within the discussion. Having dedicated roles can help the discussion develop. Many traditional discussions use a starter and finisher role to provide structure to the discussion, but you can also nominate additional roles to students. Try asking someone to play devil’s advocate to challenge a debate, or ask for someone to find significant passages from any assigned reading. There are many roles students can be asked to fill and by practicing different roles, students can apply more critical responses, leading to higher-level thinking.
Further guidance is available on Interactive teaching using Discussion Boards. There is also available Technical advice about setting up Discussion Boards in Blackboard.