Discussion Boards!

Key practices for vibrant, engaged student participation.

Student communication is vital!

Discussion boards are the heart of online learning; they create new perceptions, allow for varying perspectives, suit multiple different learning styles [1], and allow for the participation of students who have difficulty expressing themselves in real-time situations [2] -- but only if the instructor creates the right atmosphere. Not only does participation in online discussions reduce students’ sense of isolation (which can cause poor performance or even dropping out), but the more that students participate, the better their chances are for course completion and good grades [3].

Instructors must participate but not dominate discussion.

Without instructor feedback some students will lose motivation and others will feel unsafe [4], while overall participation and critical thinking will decrease, and egalitarian possibilities will be lost. But if instructors say too much, student participation will decrease [5], so respond briefly.

Ideas for Assignments!

create questions which challenge the author of the assigned material or challenge the class [5].
post your reactions to the material and explain how it changed your thinking [10].
post an image that represents an aspect of the material and explain how it relates [6].
write your opinion of the topic before it is studied, and then analyze it after you have learned more about the topic [1].


Grades are the clearest way to illustrate the importance of discussion for learning [10], and it is suggested that discussion boards equal at least 25% of the course grade [1]. Ideas for grading methods: per post on a completion basis, per set of posts on a completion basis, by quality of writing, by number of legitimate references, or by comprehensiveness of solutions, or some combination of these into a defined rubric [10].

created by James Monroe 2016

1. Clark-Ibáñez, Marisol and Linda Scott. 2008. “Learning to Teach Online.” Teaching Sociology, 36(1):34–41.
2. Baasanjav, Undrahbuyan. 2013. “Incorporating the Experiential Learning Cycle into Online Classes.” Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(4), 575-589.
3. Meyer, Katrina A., Janis Bruwelheide, and Russell Poulin. 2009. “Why They Stayed: Near-Perfect Retention in an Online Certification Program in Library Media.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, (3), 129-145.
4. Kramarae, Cheris. 2001. The Third Shift: Women Learning Online. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.
5. Bender, Tisha. 2003. Discussion-based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning: Theory, practice, and assessment. 56-94. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
6. Whitley, Cameron T. 2013. “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Applying Image-based Learning to Course Design.” Teaching Sociology, 41(2), 188-198. doi:10.1177/0092055X12472170
7. Wright, Eric R., and Anthony H. Lawson. 2005. “Computer Mediated Communication and Student Learning in Large Introductory Sociology Classes.” Teaching Sociology, 33(2), 122-135.
8. Meyer, Katrina A. 2008. “The Role of Age and Race in Online Discussions.” International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 5(10).
9. Hefner, Veronica, Torri Galaviz, Victoria Morse, Rachel-Jean Firchau, Cassi Basile, Rachel Todd, Frances Naude, and Zashya Nitzkowski-Bautista. 2015. “Refusing to Tolerate Intolerance: An Experiment Testing the Link Between Exposure to Gay-Related Content and Resulting Attitudes and Behaviors.” Sexuality & Culture, 19(4), 864-881. doi:10.1007/s12119-015-9297-y
10. Meyer, Katrina A. 2012. “Technology Review: Creative Uses of Discussion Boards: Going beyond the ordinary.” Community College Enterprise, (2), 117-121.