Discussion Forums

Discussion forums are a great way for you and your students to interact, share ideas and ask questions. We hope you’ll find some the resources and information below helpful as you design your Canvas course.


? 4 Common Types of Discussion Boards

  • Judith Boettcher (2019) suggests that discussion forums should be structured according to their purpose – and suggests 4 types of common discussions.

? Using the CREST+ Model for Online Discussions

  • Lynn Akin and Diane Neal (2007) developed the CREST+ model which helps you create engaging online discussion questions that lead to higher-level processing and learning for your students.

10 Tips for Effective Online Discussions

  • Edwige Simone (2018) provides 10 tips to increase the effectiveness of your discussion forums.

?Five Tips for Improving Online Discussion Boards

  • Gernsbacher (2016) offers five ways to improve your Online Discussion Boards.

?Innovative approaches for refreshing the discussion forum formula 

  • Mark Lieberman discusses a few innovative approaches educators are using for emphasizing quality and thoughtfulness over quantity and frequency in discussion forums. 

?Bridging the divide between goals and outcomes in discussion boards  

  • In this article from Faculty Focus, Amanda Page and Miriam Abbott explore strategies to foster critical thinking and a sense of community through the use of online discussions.  

?Moderating discussions and providing better student feedback with AI 

  • Packback is an AI-supported online platform that automatically moderates discussions, reviews them for plagiarism, and gives students reinforcing feedback on the quality of their posts. Click here to watch a free webinar 

?5 easy steps to make discussion boards effective 

  • Morton Ann Gernsbacher, psychology professor at the U of Wisconsin-Madison and host of more than 5,000 discussion boards, discusses 5 easy tips for increasing and improving student participation in online discussion. 

? Using games in discussion boards 

  • Laura Lynch, a marketing specialist at eLearning, discusses a few game options (leaderboards, badges, points and currency) that can be easily incorporated into online discussions. 

? Advice for students on how to write effective online discussion posts 

  • U of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence provides offers 5 tips students can use to write successful discussion posts. Consider sharing them with your students by creating a link to this page in your Canvas discussion board.

?Sample rubric and examples of substantive and non-substantive posts to guide student participation in online discussions 

  • The Purdue Repository for Online Teaching and Learning provides useful language for communicating to students how they will be graded and what is expected of them when participating in online discussion forums. Again, consider sharing this language (or a modified version of it) with your students by creating a link in your Canvas discussion board. 

 ?Using Role Play in Discussion Boards 

  • Research on role play activities in face to face classes finds that they help students understand better the course material. J. Waesche, psychology professor at the U of Central Florida, discusses a practical example of how he successfully adapted role playing to the online environment by making it a feature in his discussion boards. 

Faculty-to-Faculty Ideas

Idea TitleSummary
Start, Stop, Continue Discussion Boards - An ongoing discussion board where students can post suggestions for the course.

Suggestions for what to stop, start, and continue can be used for ideas about how to continuously improve a course (Joy Shepard & Joyce Buck, ECU College of Nursing).
Student Feedback and CorrectionsA discussion board forum where students can give feedback about issues they encounter in the course. These can be used to know how to make minor corrections and revisions to the course. (Johna Faulconer & Christy Howard, College of Education)
Synthesis and SummaryInstead of responding to individual posts, instructors can wait until students have wrapped up the discussion and make one post that synthesizes the discussion, highlights particularly strong points and insights, corrects misunderstandings, adds information, etc.
Help ForumsCreate a forum for every topic/chapter covered and/or every HW assignment. Students can post questions on the appropriate forum and every student can benefit from your reply. Makes your life easier as well since you don’t have to answer the same question over and over again.
 Check-in ForumFor my online class, they must check-in by mid-week even though all assignments are due at the end of the week. They pick one of the assigned videos/topics they’re learning that week and briefly explain one thing they’ve learned so far. I like this assignment because it lets the students reflect on what they’re learning and prevents them from procrastinating on the week’s work
 Round Robin“In my ENGL 200 Introduction to Literature class, I posted a writing prompt, ‘Jack entered the room and saw a dark figure...’ Then the next student would post what dark figure they saw and then the next student would continue this story. I actually got this idea from Beth Driver who designed that Literature class. Beth Driver, a colleague of mine at AMU, designed a Round Robin forum activity where she had students write poems, plays, and fictional stories together using the Round Robin method in the forums. Since Beth Driver was the one who designed the classroom, I used her method. Students had a lot of fun creating stories together. And the very last student to post that week got the privilege of writing the ending to the story.” (Ho, Y. (2020). How to Create Engaging Discussion Forums.  https://elearningindustry.com/how-create-engaging-online-discussion-forums)
 Choose Questions You Care About“This might be obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me at first. I used to ask questions that I thought were important, but somehow, I dreaded reading the answers. Now, I ask questions that I am really interested in discussing. My questions are always open-ended; I make sure to provide five or six questions so that students can choose the ones they want to respond to, and I always include a general question that prompts students to react to an aspect of the readings that caught their attention.” (Simone, E. (2018) 10 Tips for Effective Online Discussions. Educause Review)
Tracking TipI use a simple Google spreadsheet to track my own participation and that of my students, checking that the required initial answers are posted by the first deadline. Some LMSs provide this information for you in the course's student analytics section. I also keep track of whom I responded to and make sure to provide one meaningful reply to each student by the end of the week. (If you don't keep track of your own posts, you might reply four times to one student and not at all to five others.) This can create resentment or insecurities, and an online course leaves little room to resolve such misunderstandings. (Simone, E. (2018) 10 Tips for Effective Online Discussions. Educause Review)
Assign Actions“In wording your discussion board prompts, rather than simply asking students, ‘What did you think about…?’, hinge your prompts on action verbs. Phrasing assignments in terms of actions such as ‘find,’ ‘explain,’ ‘describe,’ ‘identify,’ and ‘compare’ gives students a sense that the discussion board is a place where real work gets done, rather than a place where everyone sits around to shoot the breeze. For example…Find three quotes that interested you and explain why; Find three quotes that surprised you and explain why; or Find three quotes that annoyed you and explain why.’” (Gernsbacher, M.A. (2016) https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/five-tips-for-improving-online-discussion-boards)
Divide and Conquer“Divide any class larger than a dozen students into subsections of six to eight students and create a separate but parallel discussion board for each subsection. In this way, students can more easily interact with each other, and a class of 80 can feel like a class of six to eight.” (Gernsbacher, M.A. (2016) https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/five-tips-for-improving-online-discussion-boards)
Synchronous OptionsWhen appropriate, Edwige Simone (2018) offers, “Consider offering live discussions. Students often take online courses because their schedule or personal life does not allow them to go to class twice a week. It does not mean that they can't attend live sessions…Two years ago, I introduced live sessions in all my online courses. These are optional. I send a Doodle poll a week ahead to agree on a time, and I select the most popular times. To run a live session, I require at least four students in attendance. I rotate the times so that all who wish to participate can do so at least once. Students who take part in the live session can skip the discussion board, but the expectations are the same: they must prepare responses to two questions. Live sessions are recorded and posted to the LMS. In some courses we hold a live session every week, while others have just one or two throughout the course” (Simone, E. (2018) 10 Tips for Effective Online Discussions. Educause Review)
Dive in Early“Post the initial response to all discussion forums. Interesting resources, insights, and additional questions can be posted to further student learning. This will establish the instructor’s online presence before a student even makes the first post.” (The Online Learning Consortium Blog, December 2014)
Reduce the number of discussions & broaden the format for posts Cut the number of required posts to two or three per semester and allow students to respond to discussion prompts using a variety of formats (PowerPoint presentations, videos, and concept maps in addition to written text). 
Use individualized assignments in your online discussion boards Individualizing assignments in an online course promotes student and instructor interest, challenges students to strengthen their research skills, and prevents students from paraphrasing other students’ work and presenting it as their own. (https://topr.online.ucf.edu/individualizing-assignments-in-an-online-course/)
Provide early feedback on discussion performance During the first few weeks of your course send emails to students who haven’t contributed much to the discussion forum. “That’s the most important time to give students feedback on their discussion performance . . . it sets the tone for the whole rest of the course,” says Vanessa Dennen, professor of instructional systems and learning technologies at Florida State University (https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/03/27/new-approaches-discussion-boards-aim-dynamic-online-learning).
Consider asking your students to use the “3C &Q” model when they respond to their peers The “3C &Q” model “3C &Q” model(pp.3-4), developed by Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell, fosters quality comments to blog posts written by students. Each student’s response must include a compliment, a comment, a connection (3C) and a question (Q).
Insert variety into your discussion prompts. The discussion forum is a tool that can support multiple types of structured and semi-structured learning activities (case study analysis, role playing, debate, comparison and contrast, sharing, collaborative problem solving). Explore some of these options instead of always using the same type of activity.

Ask students to lead the online discussion According to some studies, questioning from an instructor may prompt students to view discussion prompts as a form of assessment, rather than a tool to drive the conversation. Students may therefore feel more comfortable participating in online discussion when they are led by a peer rather than the instructor. (https://topr.online.ucf.edu/ask-students-to-lead-the-online-discussion/)
Make your listening visible A successful discussion isn’t measured by the quantity of student responses, it’s measured by the quality of student responses.  And quality requires instructor engagement. In large-enrollment courses make sure your students know you are engaging with them by using emojis or other abbreviated form of communication when their posts do not require detailed feedback.
Scaffold online discussions through “steering” Steering is a strategy that facilitates meaningful interaction in asynchronous discussions by asking instructors to ensure that the discussion keeps moving purposefully towards learning outcomes. Steering involves techniques such as prompting, focusing, questioning, and clarifying. (https://topr.online.ucf.edu/scaffold-online-discussion-through-steering/)
Consider using an AI-supported platform such as Packback in your large-enrollment course to improve the quality of student posts. According to Adam Fein, VP of Digital Strategy & Innovation at the University of North Texas, students who use AI-driven discussion platforms in large-enrollment courses are more likely to write posts that rely on resources other than the poster’s opinion and to provide citations for the resources used. Students who use AI-supported platforms also improve their editing and postediting skills. One caveat: students will need to pay a fee to use these platforms.

Use the appropriate rubric for your discussion prompt The Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service at the U of Illinois-Springfield and The Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository at the U of Central Florida discuss different types of rubrics that can be used for assessing student performance in online discussions depending on the type of prompt used by the instructor. They also provide a few samples and resources to build your own rubric.

Related Literature

  • How To Create Engaging Online Discussion Forums (elearningindustry.com)
    • This article will discuss innovative ways you can make your discussion forums “the happening place” in your online classroom. The forums are the most interactive part and the heart of your online classroom.
  • Online Discussions and the “Community of Inquiry” Model of Learning (Purdue University Repository for Online Teaching and Learning) 
    • This article describes the basic tenets of the most widely used model of learning in online and blended environments, the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework. Online discussions occupy o prominent place in this model, which is frequently referred to in the literature that examines their use. 
    • This article identifies benefits and difficulties of using online discussion forums from the instructors’ point of view and discusses strategies that can lead to a more participatory forum.
    • This article discusses the difference between gamification and game-based learning, their pedagogical value, and game elements appropriate for online discussions. 
    • This article argues for the use of the “Save the Last Word for Me” protocol in online discussions as a strategy that facilitates student interaction and increases the level of cognition in online discussions. 
    • The author summarizes student perceptions regarding different strategies used by instructors to structure online discussions in an upper level communications course and offers recommendations based on the results of her research. 
    • This article discusses the so-called photovoice methoda research method used in the social sciences in which people express their viewpoint by photographing theme-based scenes with their cell phones—and examines its impact on authentic learning, critical thinking, and peer interaction in asynchronous online discussions