Discussion Boards


One of the biggest challenges in designing an online class is creating an intellectual community that mimics the conversation that occurs in a classroom between the professor and the students and amongst the students.

Discussion boards are online forums that allow students to wrestle with class topics, answer questions in an interactive setting, and respond to one another. When a discussion board is well-crafted, it can allow for the same intellectual exchange that occurs in our best class settings.

Best practices

  • How do I ask the right question?
    • Don’t Ask Yes/ No questions or questions that require only factual answers. They do not require explanation or analysis. They do not help generate interaction.
    • Ask questions that require reflection, interpretation, analysis and problem solving, elicit relevant personal anecdotes, and require students to connect past learning to present material.
  • When do I insert myself into the discussion thread?
    • Early and often
      • Studies show that students feel that they learn more and enjoy the class more when professors are engaged in the discussion boards.
      • Your presence early in the course and early in each discussion will set the tone for a professional, engaged atmosphere.
    • Just like in the classroom, sometimes the student voice that dominates the discussion is not the best voice to lead.
      • The instructor can use praise to reinforce the comments that are most relevant to the topic.
      • The professor can re-direct the discussion if incorrect ideas are gaining solid ground.
  • Set aside time to read and respond to the board(s).
  • Set clear etiquette and expectations guidelines for participation (can be done through rubric use).
  • Model the types of communications you want the students to use. Use praise to encourage that level in your students.


  • Cho, M. H., & Cho, Y. (2014). Instructor scaffolding for interaction and students’ academic engagement in online learning: Mediating role of perceived online class goal structures. The Internet and Higher Education21, 25-30.
  • Research shows that increased opportunities for interaction between students and the professor and the students amongst themselves make a significant contribution to the creation of mastery class goal structures.
  • Swan, K., Day, S. L., Bogle, L. R., & Matthews, D. B. (2014). A collaborative, design-based approach to improving an online program. The Internet and Higher Education21, 74-81.
  • Research finds that using a design-based, collaborative approach to building communities of inquiry in online courses was quite productive and worthwhile.