Asynchronous discussion boards are a common tool used by instructors in online courses. These forums can provide an outlet to foster the interaction and collaboration that are sometimes lacking in an online learning environment. When students are engaged in conversations in these settings, the asynchronous nature of discussions can provide them with time to reflect on their responses before interacting with their peers in a way that is often not feasible in a face-to-face discussion. In this way, when it is used well, the discussion board can offer the ideal blend of reflection and collaboration that promotes the construction of knowledge in an online learning environment.
However, while its asynchronous nature can have the positive outcome of promoting deliberation, it can also result in periods of inactivity as students wait for responses from their peers that then leave them scrambling to interact with one another as the discussion deadline draws near. Text-based online discussions have been critiqued for their generally antisocial and impersonal nature. Additionally, the structure of some types of discussion prompts are not conducive for supporting deep and meaningful conversations.
During this webinar, we’ll begin by reflecting on why the discussion board has become a staple practice within an online learning environment and if it is anathema to suggest abandoning it altogether. We will explore several different structures and ways to classify online discussion prompts and what research suggests that some of those structures are good for and not-so-good for. For example, which types of discussion prompts are better at encouraging students to exchange ideas? Which are better at facilitating critical thinking? Which seem to be good only at generating lower levels of thinking? We will engage in conversation around ‘What makes a good discussion question?’ before identifying the characteristics that have been shown to be successful at generating engagement and pushing students to think critically. We propose three main structures for effective discussion prompts that will each be examined in greater depth.