Center for Technology Enhanced Learning

Online Discussions

An entire course can be taught, managed and evaluated through the discussion board. At the very least, the DB should be a resource for students with questions, at best, it forms the basis for a learning community characterized by shared wisdom and experience, advancement of new ideas and research, collegiality, academic integrity, mentoring and a free-flowing exchange of ideas.

Keep in mind that the Discussion Board Forums are only one aspect of this collaboration. You can also employ blogs, journals, wikis, and collaborative assignments to foster this exchange.

Discussions in Online Learning

A collection of Round Table event recordings led by Lenny Shedletsky

Lenny Shedletsky's Third Russell Chair Even - Students Talk About Discussion | Part 1 | Part 2
Lenny Shedletsky's Second Russell Chair Presentation on Discussion Online
(Elluminate Recording, note that the recording starts about 4 minutes before presentation begins)
Lenny Shedletsky's Russell Chair Presentation "Discussion Online"

Other DB Resources

Discussion Board Techniques - from WPI Academic Technology Center

Discussion Board Rubric for grading (excel)- Courtesy of Pat Red

Discussion Board Feedback Sheet (also Pat Red)

More Discussion Board Rubrics (Burns) (Eastman)

Create your own Rubrics online

Top three community-building forums:

Preferably the week before your class begins:
Introductions Possible wording:
Click "Add a Thread" to post a brief introduction of yourself here. Include where you are geographically and educationally, what you hope to gain from this class, and at least three things you enjoy doing.
Read the introductions your classmates post and find at least two things you have in common with a classmate. Post those observations as replies to the threads.

This accomplishes two major things.
First you see right away who is accessing the course and successfully using the Blackboard tools. You can then contact the" missing links" to see what is causing difficulty.
Second, your class will begin to form community, the way they do when interacting in class.
Optional format: Use a class blog for introductions. Photos or avatars can be embedded and you can easily read through all the introductions with no need to click multiple threads.

Starting in the first week:
Water Cooler A forum where students can post observations questions or whatever they like that may or may not be related to the course. This is to fill the void of interaction before and after class. This should not be a graded forum, and you should let your students know whether you will be observing or posting to this forum. Note you can call this anything you like: Hallway chatter, coffee shop, etc.
Possible wording:
This is your space for chatting, networking, and posing questions not directly connected to this course. Use it freely but with respect for your colleagues.
Questions about this course This is a place where students can pose questions as they would in a face-to-face class regarding assignments, etc. Let them know how often you will be checking this, and if a student asks you a good question in e-mail, you might want to ask them whether they would mind if you posted it in the DB so that all can benefit from it. Suggest that they may take a stab at answering each others' questions.


Creating a Culture of Academic Integrity

The best deterrent to cheating and plagiarism in your online course is to create a Community where Academic Integrity is discussed and honored. Two excellent methods are to send a letter to your students similar to the one below by Bill Taylor, or to give your students a reading or video to study then begin a discussion around that.

Three suggestions for discussion starters:

1. Dan Ariely: "Why we think it's OK to cheat and steal (sometimes)" (video)
2. Vincent Moore's "Playing Dirty in the War on Plagiarism"
3. Give two examples of cheating (perhaps one about plagiarism and one where a student cheats during an exam). Have your students discuss what the consequences should be for each.

"A Letter to My Students" by Bill Taylor, does a great job of explaining the mutual responsibilities for academic and political integrity, saying that both the instructor and students have responsibilities. This example is a tad on the lengthy side, but you could write your own along the same lines.

See also: Magna Webinar (viewable from campus computers only unless DVD is borrowed from library)