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Interactive Discussion Boards

Take a second to think through this question: How do students interact with each other in my online course? A literature review for the importance of student interactions in online education is available HEREThis means if the discussion board is part of your answer to the question above, then it is critical the discussion board is set up for student success.


Many of us use the discussion board in online classrooms for a variety of reasons. Is it effective? Read through these five simple strategies to help ensure your students are meeting the objectives for your course and are getting those valueable moments of student interactivity.

1. Check the Purpose

Think about the reason you would like students to join the discussion board. If your students are not joining in on the conversation, you may need to rethink the purpose of the activity. If you want them to show they are reading material, maybe a reflection or written review would suffice. In order to get the most out of the discussion board, be sure one of the objectives is student interactions.


2. Break into Smaller Groups

Discussion boards in a course with 100+ students can be overwhelming... not only for instructors, but also for students. Conversations in large face-to-face classes usually see a handful of participants each week, and that is exactly what you will find in an online course. Break the students into smaller discussion groups. The students will get to know the ideas and opinions of those students and will be more likely to participate (especially if other students' have to respond to their posts).


3. Give Clear Guidance and Expectations

Kellogg and Smith (2009) discovered some negative student views toward discussion boards. This was partially due to relying on other students' schedules for their own grade. To help alleviate this dissatisfaction, instructors could space out the posting deadline, such as initial posts due by Wednesday and response posts due by Friday. Early posters do not have to wait on the late posters and everyone has time to review the posts before posting a response with this structure.

Gunawardena et al. (2010) found some students who are dissatisfied with online discussion boards held negative views because they felt they were not provided enough guidance on how to interact on the discussion board. Setting clear expectations for your students' discussion posts allows students to have purposeful interactions. To the right is an example rubric for a discussion board, which could help give you ideas for what would work for your course.


4. Prompt an Action

Inspire your students to react instead of simply responding to discussion prompts. Use action words in your prompt such as identify, describe, compare, investigate, or find to encourage students to act before they respond.


5. Perfect Your Prompts

Spice up the discussion boards by inserting a variety of strategies for student responses. One common strategy is the 3C + Q method created by Jennifer Stewart Mitchell. This method asks students to include a Compliment, Comment, Connection, and Question within their responses. Another strategy is to insert a snowball or jigsaw prompt where students have to build on the content from the previous prompt.


Asychnronous vs. Synchronous

There are many ways to encourage your students to interact with each other in discussion boards. These steps can help elevate your online discussions from tedious busywork to meaningful interactions. Here are some ideas for you to consider as a fresh new perspective on traditional discussion board posts.



  • Have students post video prompts instead of written.
  • Create a poll or survey and have discussions on the results.


  • Have students record discussions on a webconferencing platform such as Zoom or Skype.
  • Have live discussions on Google docs or slides.
  • Host a Twitter chat or Facebook live session.
  • References

    Croxton, R. A. (2014). The role of interactivity in student satisfaction and persistence in online learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(2), 314. 43 (1):15–27.

    Gunawardena, C. N., Linder-VanBerschot, J. A., LaPointe, D. K., & Rao, L. (2010). Predictors of learner satisfaction and transfer of learning in a corporate online education program. The Amer. Jrnl. of Distance Education, 24(4), 207-226.

    Kellogg, D. L., & Smith, M. A. (2009). Student‐to‐student interaction revisited: A case study of working adult business students in online courses. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 7(2), 433-456.

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