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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

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Dress Up Your Discussion Board and Take It Out to Dinner: Make Your Discussion Boards Sexy Again

Tamara Powell (Kennesaw State University, USA)
Justin Cochran (Kennesaw State University, USA)
Julie Moore (Kennesaw State University, USA)
Deborah Mixson-Brookshire (Kennesaw State University, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 2:45pm
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere C
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 3

We will present research-based best practices and strategies for exciting new ways of getting students to collaborate and think critically online.

Extended Abstract

Discussion boards are often the staple of online classes. Research has shown that when properly instituted, discussion board assignments can produce text-based discussions that demonstrate higher order thinking (Giacumo 790). Despite this finding, discussion boards are also frequently maligned as ineffective for actually producing valuable class discussion. Students complain of "death by discussion board." In this panel, four college-level online coordinators at Kennesaw State University will take you on a re-visioning of discussion board practice. This presentation intends to cover a broad set of experiences, numerous perspectives on best practices, what the latest research says about discussions, and some takeaway ideas for attendees.

Research Based Best Practices
University College at KSU is looking to the research to assist faculty in implementing effective discussion boards. For example, it's certainly no surprise that using the discussion board as a baby-sitting tool instead of presenting content in the online classroom is not a best practice (Curry and Cook 1-2). Also predictable, best practices in using discussion boards recommend that faculty structure the assignment with clear instructions, grading rubrics, and sample desired feedback (Giacumo 792). While Giacumo found that prompt, detailed instructor feedback yielded higher-order thinking on discussion boards, Hall noted that often students found discussion boards boring. However, a benefit of discussion boards over face to face discussion is that it allows all students to participate in class discussion (Hall 22). One area of contention regarding best practices with discussion boards resides in the area of instructor interaction/response with regard to discussions. Giacumo recommends a high level of instructor response on discussion boards (792), and Gerber found that the quality of instructor interaction influenced the quality of student work (32). And although some instructors feel strongly that a good instructor responds to every discussion board post, Neff and Stewart recommend responding to only 25-50% of posts in order to foster more robust communication among students (201).

Conversation Protocols for More Effective Discussions
In KSU's Bagwell College of Education, conversation protocols are all the rage. Conversation protocols can be used as discussion boards to provide feedback to students on work, to read and examine texts, to start up a class, and to finish it (McDonald, Zydney, Dichter & McDonald 49). Protocols are strict conversation structures that guide students to look at work more in depth and support their fellow students' thinking. They are designed to provide equality of voice, to honor time (each protocol step has a time frame), and to get at learning in a different way. For instance, the Tuning Protocol can be used to assist a student's thinking about his or her own work or to wrap up a unit or semester. The Tuning Protocol for online use has seven steps: 1. Organization, 2. Introduction and selection, 3. Presentation, 4. Warm Feedback, 5. Cool Feedback, 6. Reaction, 7. Debrief. The Save the Last Word for Me is a protocol designed to delve into challenging texts. Its steps include: 1. Organization, 2. Introduction and selection, 3. Presentation. 4. Reactions, 5. Last word, 6. Round repeats. Protocols can take several days to complete, but engage the student in ways that traditional "post 1, reply to 2" directions do not.

Student Perspectives
The Coles College of Business at KSU conducted three online student focus
groups recently to gain deeper insight into the perspectives of online
students. From our focus groups we found that discussion boards are a tool
whose purpose students did not understand. Students felt discussion boards were confusing to keep track of and generally "busy work." Since then, our efforts
have been focused on communicating relevance and finding juicier topics to
drive interest. Additionally, some have started using an alternate "value
added" grading system that has worked well in discussion assignments.

Alternatives to Discussion Boards
In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, we often try to get out of using discussion boards. When considering setting up a discussion, the faculty member's primary consideration should be the goal of the discussion board. To this end, there are three promising alternative strategies if an activity goal is to identify, classify, or analyze information presented in the course material. For example, for students asked to identify theories or strategies presented in the course materials, a faculty member can quickly create ungraded self-assessment quizzes, drag and drop matching exercises, and crossword puzzles. In a second example, for students asked to classify information--theories, short stories, case studies--the tool LinoIt can be used. In a third example, VoiceThread allows online students to "step to the board" as they might in a face to face class and work a problem or analyze a scenario.

Since discussions are a core part of many online classes, and are often failing to serve their purpose of engaging students, we are all evaluating our practices and assumptions about what makes discussion boards necessary and effective.

Works Cited
Curry, John H., and Jonene Cook. "Facilitating Online Discussions at a Manic Pace: A New Strategy for an Old Problem." Quarterly Review Of Distance Education 15.3 (2014): 1-12. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Gerber, Sue Scott, Logan Clements, Douglas H. Sarama, Julie. "Instructor Influence on Reasoned Argument in Discussion Boards." Educational Technology Research & Development 53.2 (2005): 25-39. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Giacumo, Lisa A., Wilhelmina Savenye, and Nichole Smith. "Facilitation Prompts and Rubrics On Higher-Order Thinking Skill Performance Found in Undergraduate Asynchronous Discussion Boards." British Journal of Educational Technology 44.5 (2013): 774-794. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Hall, Ramona A. "Critical Thinking In Online Discussion Boards: Transforming An Anomaly." Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin 81.3 (2015): 21-27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
McDonald, J.P., Zydney, J.M., Cichter, A. & McDonald, E.C. Going Online With Protocols. New York: Teachers College Press, 2012.

Lead Presenter

Dr. Tamara Powell is an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Atlanta, USA. She is also the Director of Distance Education for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She received her Ph.D.from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. Research interests include technical writing, instructional technology, and multiethnic American literature.