Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Advising Advice: Discussin’ Discussions

Posted on October 24, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Rusty Dolleman

Discussion boards are a feature of many online courses that can even comprise the bulk of the work for some of them. As someone who has taught both and has taken online courses that use discussion boards, here are a few tips for getting the most out of these assignments.

First, find out what the discussion question will be before doing any of the week’s reading(s). This way, you can focus your reading on developing a thoughtful response. Spend the week thinking about how you might answer the question and writing down some preparatory notes/thoughts, rather than encountering the question half an hour before the post is due.

Be realistic about the time it takes to write a solid discussion post that answers the prompt. Is your instructor requiring you to quote from the text and provide citations? That takes extra time, as does answering a multi-part question that asks you to synthesize a lot of material. One complaint I hear from instructors is that students often produce a lot of words but do not actually answer the question in the specific way that it is being asked.

The timing of your posts is important, too. Your instructors will appreciate if you post early in the week to get the conversation started. You will also get more detailed feedback that way. If they have just your post to read, they will generally put more time and energy into their response than if it is one of thirty posts that come in on the due date.

Responses to classmates should also follow instructions to the letter. What most instructors want is for you to push the discussion forward. You would never raise your hand in class just to say “I agree” to a classmate’s statement—you would support your agreement with your own take on the argument or a new way of looking at the topic. That is what you should be doing in an online response, as well.

It goes without saying that you should never be rude or combative. Disagreeing on ideas is fine, but if you cannot bring yourself to do so respectfully, pick a different post to respond to.  

Finally, never use the text box in Blackboard to compose your posts. You are guaranteed to lose at least one post a semester that way due to a server timing out. You cannot proofread or spell check them as effectively that way, either. Compose posts in a separate word document, reading them out loud to yourself before copying and pasting them into the text box.

It all comes down to taking discussion posts as seriously as assignments. Often, you can earn points just for making a solid effort, and it always surprises me how many students see them as inessential just because they may not individually count as much as an exam or major paper. In the courses I taught, discussion posts were worth 10% of the final grade. Not a lot at first glance, but many students moved from a B+ to an A- because they had done them all. There were students whose grades moved in the other direction, too. Solid B- students ended up with C+ grades because they had not given themselves any margin for error. Rather than viewing discussions as minor assignments, look at them as insurance that will help if you do not do well on an exam or have a poorly written paper later on in the semester.

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