Discussion Boards: A Hierarchy of Needs

This hierarchy was developed after an extensive review of published research and personal interviews. It is meant to help curriculum designers create and improve discussion boards.

TASKS, DEADLINES, & RUBRICS INSTRUCTOR ROLES RELEVANCE Ensures accountability Encourages communication Creates a meaningful environment Functional Satisfactory Excellent NORMS & GRADE WEIGHT QUALITY PROMPTS & STRATEGY TASKS, DEADLINES, RUBRICS QUALITY PROMPT, STRATEGY

Norms and Grade Weight

Excellent discussion boards are graded, required, and have clearly established norms.1, 2 Norms denote the course’s rules, standards, and specific expectations (similar to etiquette).3 Graded discussion boards with established norms hold students accountable for not only participation, but for the way in which they do it.

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 Examples

Exceptional: The discussion board below has clearly defined the norms (shown as “Rules of Engagement”). Many meaningful and lengthy posts were found when studying this discussion board.

 

Proficient: This next discussion board, on the other hand, has no mention of norms, so students don’t know the assignment’s expectations. This particular discussion board showed little engagement, with the exception of one group (out of three).

Sources
  1. John Curry and Jonene Cook, “Facilitating Online Discussions at a Manic Pace: A New Strategy for an Old Problem,” The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 15(3), (2014), 1-11
  2. B.J. Covelli, “Online Discussion Boards: The Practice of Building Community for Adult Learners,” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 65, no. 2: 139-45.
  3. James Helfrich. Six Considerations for Making Discussion Board Learning Effective (BYU-Idaho, 2017), 26-27.

Tasks, Deadlines, and Rubrics

Clearly stated tasks enable students to complete the assignment without confusion, while regular deadlines and qualitative rubrics positively impact meaningful discussion, creating more participation in the activity.2  

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Tasks hold both the success criteria (what students need to do) and the exit criteria (how students know when they are done)1.

Deadlines are regular and clearly stated on the instructions page.

Qualitative rubrics facilitate valuable discussion. Avoid purely quantitative rubrics that grade based only on a certain number of words or posts.

 

Examples

Exceptional: This discussion board’s task is clearly stated, so students know where to start, how to finish, and how to be successful. Deadlines are consistent from week to week and are clearly stated at the top of the page. The rubric is clear and evaluates assignments based on quality content, rather than quantity of words or posts.

Proficient: Neither the task nor the deadline is clear on this discussion board; in fact, there is no deadline on the instruction page at all. The rubric is purely quantitative, with no measure for quality of content. Although the task instructs students to post completed work, it does not mention where to submit it. In one section, for instance, the first student to post said, “I hope I’m posting this to the right place.”

Sources
  1. James Helfrich. Six Considerations for Making Discussion Board Learning Effective (BYU-Idaho, 2017), 26-27.
  2. Paul Roberts, “Asynchronous Electronic Discussion Best Practice Implementation,” (Idaho State University, 2014).

Instructor Roles

Instructor involvement affects student participation in discussion boards. Instructors should be given clear guidance and ideas on how to facilitate and participate in discussions effectively.

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Research

One study concludes instructors must find a balance between participating too little and too much due to the following findings:1

  • In courses with high instructor participation, the student discussion thread length was shorter than with instructors who had lower participation rates. The researchers also found student satisfaction was high for instructors with high participation rates.
  • When the instructor’s login intensity increased, student-perceived learning decreased.
  • However, they also found instructors who communicated with students had increased student satisfaction and perceived learning ratings.

Best practices for effective instructor participation are shown below:

  • Outline rules and a guide to the threaded discussion2
  • Allow individualization without isolation2
  • Stimulate participation2
  • Encourage reflection2
  • Summarize key ideas2
  • Create clear expectations through examples and explanations3
  • Remain engaged and “concerned about communicating and connecting with students and supporting their learning achievement”3
  • Ensure student participation online3
  • Guide discussions and ask thought-provoking questions, rather than providing answers3
  • Engage in discussion boards three times a day to engage students in discussions4

 

Examples

Exceptional: This course intends for instructors to have a greater role in discussions than simply grading student posts and replies. The reminder to “participate in student discussion boards, but do not dominate them” also follows the guideline to find balance in their level of participation.

Proficient: This course simply asks the instructor to grade students’ posts and replies.

Sources
  1. Paul Roberts, “Asynchronous Electronic Discussion Best Practice Implementation,” (Idaho State University, 2014).
  2. B.J. Covelli, “Online Discussion Boards: The Practice of Building Community for Adult Learners,” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 65, no. 2: 139-45.
  3. John Curry and Jonene Cook, “Facilitating Online Discussions at a Manic Pace: A New Strategy for an Old Problem,” The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 15(3), (2014), 1-11
  4. James Helfrich. Six Considerations for Making Discussion Board Learning Effective (BYU-Idaho, 2017), 26-27.

Relevance

Research shows relevance is an important factor for effective Teach One Another experiences.1234 Relevance means that students should not only be able to see the purpose of the discussion board but also how it relates to them.

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Examples

Exceptional: This discussion board is not only relevant to the course but to most BYU-Idaho students as well. After looking at the actual discussion, this topic obviously relates to those who are in the course. Students (whether married or single) had opinions about these questions and generated a good discussion.

Proficient: This discussion board may seem relevant, but in reality, each lesson already contains a Questions and Conversations board for the same purpose. Having both boards seems redundant, and if students don’t have a question, they are forced to make one up.

Sources
  1. James Helfrich. Six Considerations for Making Discussion Board Learning Effective (BYU-Idaho, 2017), 26-27
  2. B.J. Covelli, “Online Discussion Boards: The Practice of Building Community for Adult Learners,” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 65, no. 2: 139-45
  3. “Experiential Learning and the Discussion Board: A Strategy, a Rubric, and Management Techniques,” Distance Learning, accessed January 2018, https://search.proquest.com/docview/230714208
  4. “Critical Factors for Good Teach One Another Experiences,” Design and Research Lab, BYU-Idaho, accessed January 2018,  http://www.byui.edu/online-course-councils/design-and-research-lab/critical-factors.

Quality Prompts and Strategy

This category involves (but is not limited to) group size, how a prompt is phrased, and the setup of the discussion.

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Group Size

Research1 has shown the following information about groups:

  • Small groups of 25 result in significantly more posts per student and higher participation (number of students who post)2,3
  • Small groups of 36 are best when students are highly committed and the discussion is highly focused 1
  • Medium groups of 1013 are best for most situations, though specific roles usually need to be assigned1
  • Large groups of 17+ are best when there are multiple discussion threads and the student doesn’t need to participate in all of them1

Prompts & Setup

The following elements, among others, have been found to promote meaningful discussion:

  • Use the discussion board as a precursor to other assignments4
  • Create open-ended questions4, 5
  • Give students roles within the discussion (pro/con, facilitator, dominant group member, etc.) 1, 3, 4, 6, 7
  • Have students title their initial posts4
  • Grade on content, rather than by word count alone4

Examples

Exceptional: This discussion board is used as a precursor to another assignment. Students are asked to make a lesson plan and then give feedback on other students’ plans. After completing this discussion board, students take a quiz on backward design. A review of participation on this board reaffirmed the quality of the prompt. Students gave each other specific and helpful feedback.

Proficient: Although this prompt might initially look correct, student artifacts reveal little variety among posts. The gestures among the four available countries are all very similar if not the same and most students come from the same culture; therefore, students may not have benefited from any actual discussion. Introducing a variety of topics or social norms could have improved the experience.

Sources
  1. James Helfrich. Six Considerations for Making Discussion Board Learning Effective (BYU-Idaho, 2017), 26-27
  2. C.A. Bliss and B. Lawrence, “Is the Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? A Comparison of Small Goup and Whole Class Discussion Board Activities in Online Courses,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(4), 25.
  3. Paul Roberts, “Asynchronous Electronic Discussion Best Practice Implementation,” (Idaho State University, 2014).
  4. Ramona Hall, “Critical Thinking in Online Discussion Boards: Transforming an Anomaly,” The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, Spring 2015, 21-27.
  5. Cleo Magnuson, “Experiential Learning and the Discussion Board: A Strategy, a Rubric, and Management Techniques,” Distance Learning, 2(2), 15.
  6. B.J. Covelli, “Online Discussion Boards: The Practice of Building Community for Adult Learners,” Journal of Continuing Higher Education 65, no. 2: 139-45
  7. Nancy Dunphily, “Transitioning from LPN/LVN to BSN. (New York: Springer Publishing Company).

About this article

Responsible: Daniel Balls (Online Researcher)

Accountable: Ben Fryar (Director of OPR)

Consulted: Emily Hermann (Organizational Learning Strategist)

Informed: RED team, Organizational Learning team

Sharing: Restricted (Org-level)

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