Here are some tips for success in online, asynchronous discussion boards in any learning program or course:
Make time every week for your discussion board postings. You will need time when you can read through other posts without interruption, as well as write your own posts and replies.
I teach Master’s of Education students at the University of Calgary. In my courses, I encourage my students to check into the discussion board every day at a time of day when they can be alone, without children, co-workers or telephones interrupting them.
Be aware of deadlines for posting
A discussion board is an asynchronous learning tool. That means that you have some flexibility around when you post. However, in a learning situation where your discussion board contribution counts for part of your grade, there may be deadlines for contributing.
The reason for this is that your instructor has designed your course with a certain flow in mind. That means that the course is built so that one topic leads into another. Each topic builds on the one before it.
Your instructor may close a discussion board for active posting after a certain period of time, in order to keep everyone focused on current topics, rather than ones that have already been addressed.
Keep an eye on any deadlines and factor in your local time zone to ensure that you are contributing on time.
Don’t write a post – craft it.
Your contributions to your discussion board are your way to show your instructor and your peers that you have thoroughly understood and digested the weekly reading and you are prepared to add your contribution to the scholarly discussion.
Adding citations and references to your posts demonstrates you are concerned with giving credit where it is due.
Pose open-ended questions to draw others into your posts and engage them as readers.
A substantive discussion board post is probably at least 2 to 3 paragraphs long, but really, the quality of your post is equally (if not more) important than how long it is.
Understand the importance of the conversation
Posting your own answers or responses to discussion questions is important, but it is only part of the picture. Building a sense of “virtual community” is another important element.
You are expected not only to read, but also to comment on your peers’ posts by offering supportive feedback, reflective replies and additional resources that help everyone in the class to build their knowledge base.
Do not assume that reading your classmates’ posts is enough. It is up to you to demonstrate that you have read them. The main way you do that is by posting a thoughtful reply that shows you thought about the other person’s post.
References and resources
Jorgensen, E. (2012). 5 Tips for online discussion board success. All Allied Health Schools. Retrieved December 7, 2012, from http://www.allalliedhealthschools.com/blog/2012/online-discussion-blackboard-help/
Speidel, B. J. (n.d.). Tips for Succeeding in an Online Class. Retrieved December 7, 2012, from http://www.swccd.edu/~asc/lrnglinks/olsuccess.html
TeacherStream LLC. (2009). Mastering online discussion board facilitation: Resource guide. Retrieved December 7, 2012, from http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/stw/edutopia-onlinelearning-mastering-online-discussion-board-facilitation.pdf
Teaching with Technology (Wiki). Tips for Discussion Boards. Retrieved December 7, 2012: http://twt.wikispaces.com/Tips+for+Discussion+Boards
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.