How to Use Discussion Boards and Online Classes to Your Advantage

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Five Great Ways to Write Successful Discussion Board Assignments for Online Classes

Online classrooms are increasing in popularity but these do not involve any raising of hands or any vigorous nodding of heads when a fellow student comes up with a great idea or makes a valid point. In virtual classes, there is no way of approaching a tutor after class to discuss the day’s events or ask questions.

However, to discuss a class or the materials related to a class, virtual students do have someplace to go. This meeting point is called a discussion board – an essential element of almost every online course.

Some students would say these are the best aspect of online learning. They would argue that the intense interaction that takes place on discussion boards is a way for students to share their opinions with other people and to listen to the opinions of other people. All the participants have real experience of and interest in what they are studying. Boards are made more interesting because they facilitate discussions that go well beyond what the participants are begin taught to things that are actually happening within the field of study and in related fields.


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Course instructors often say that when a virtual discussion board works well and properly comes together, these can actually provide an even better learning experience than other components of a course or program do. However, it is not entirely easy to get the most from a discussion board or to earn good marks from it.

In the following part of this article, some experts have shared their tips on how to make discussion boards work well as part of online classes:

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Here is what various students and lecturers have said about their experience of a discussion board:

  • Read and follow the directions you are given:

The real key to making a success of discussion boards is by reading the instruction your teacher gives you. This is the opinion of a student who is taking a graduate-level course in negotiating and resolving conflict and he recommends that you read your course syllabus. This is because teachers often state explicitly what they want in a syllabus.

Typically, a syllabus recommends how frequently you should post, what to put in each post, and how long a response should be.

Another student agrees by saying it is not prudent to ignore this advice. She believes students will sometimes lose marks for exceeding the recommended word count even if they have correctly answered one or more questions. This student says she finds it difficult to believe that other students then feel surprised at being marked down because their responses were too long.

  • Offer substantive opinions:

Although course instructors like to see students giving their opinions on a discussion board, they like opinions to be supported by solid facts. The correct citing of sources both within and outside class has the potential to reduce plagiarism and legitimizes an argument.

One of our experts says they get the highest points when they are able to cite even a single journal or newspaper article and they use these in their posts. It always strengthens a point, even when it is not required.

Another thing that students need to remember is that a discussion board is meant to be a platform for conversation, with every post building on the one before it and to the overall discussion.

The best posts (especially those that are responding) are those that just do not agree or disagree. Reading someone else’s post provides an opportunity for expanding the discussion. In doing so, the respondent can refer to some significant material and, if appropriate, align it to their own experiences.

  • Try not to procrastinate:

Early participation in a conversation is better than joining in nearer the end or deadline. This advice comes from a respected lecturer. It is his belief that if everyone only participates at the end, the conversation only touches the surface and does not get anywhere near to an informative and thought-provoking conversation.

Someone else who agrees with posting in the early stages says that he finds this practice both interesting and easier and that it promotes learning. It allows the poster to build on the comments that other people have made, which is something that professors like and value.

  • If you are not sure, ask questions:

One of our students recommends you consult your course instructor if there is something you do not understand or when you do not know what is expected of you. Do not let other people influence you because they may be as much in the dark as you are.

Undoubtedly, too, there will be times when you ask a question on a discussion board and there will be no response. While online tutors and instructors can seem remote and difficult to approach, they can easily be contacted by email.

  • Check your words for tone and clarity:

Experts suggest it is not acceptable to use text-style speech in a posting, e.g., LOL. Instead, you should use complete and clear sentences. You should definitely not use full capitalization, several question or exclamation marks, or expletives.

It is important to re-read posts to check the tone, making sure there is nothing that will offend peers. However, the odd well-chosen emoji is acceptable and can be of benefit. Just do not use Popsicles and/or animal emojis.

In the event a student finds it difficult to write a good post, they always have the option of asking for advice from a course tutor or from their college’s writing center. This is what a lot of foreign students do when they find themselves struggling with the English language.

One Spanish student explained that some of the responses he has received to posts were completely unrelated to the questions he had asked. These responses serve to tell him that what wrote was not entirely correct.