Online College: How to Thrive in Discussion Boards

Online College: How to Thrive in Discussion Boards
Photo by Thomas Lefebvre / Unsplash

Online courses tend to heavily utilize weekly discussion boards, and there are many reasons why that is the case. Discussion boards help generate dialogue between students about new material and expand learning. Professors also utilize discussion boards to assess students’ progress and their understanding of the course material.

If you are taking online courses, especially those in the humanities, you will find yourself faced with discussion boards often. These discussions can carry a fairly large weight for your final grade, so it is incredibly important to not only get through them, but thrive in them. Here are some helpful tips for doing just that!

Write in Word or Google Docs.

  • Always write your posts and responses somewhere that has spellcheck and won’t disappear if you lose internet connection. I recall early in my freshman year being nearly complete with a 500 word post directly on my school’s online system Blackboard. I lost connection with the server and all of my work disappeared. From there on out I have always used Google Docs and then copy and pasted it over to submit safely.

Know Expectations, the Prompts, Minimum Word Count.

  • It may seem obvious, but so many students make the mistake of not fully reading the instructions and expectations in the course syllabus. Know the word count requirements, and try to do more than the bare minimum if you want to score well. Most importantly, follow the prompt questions! Your posts should include your personality, but try not to get too far off track.

Don’t Summarize. Expand, Explore, and Interpret Material.

  • All of your classmates watched the same videos or have read the same material. Simply giving summaries or saying what happened is lazy writing and nearly impossible to build a discussion off of. Nobody likes the classmate who writes terrible posts, and everyone looks for posts that are easy to respond to. Expand on the prompt questions, explore different interpretations of your material, and try to look at things through different lenses.

Ask Questions for Your Peers.

  • In your initial Discussion Board posts it is important to urge others to respond. A great way to make your posts more approachable for your classmates is to ask questions of them. Provide your response to prompts and include your opinions, but don’t forget to ask direct questions. Example: “I thought that Office Space was a social critique on dehumanization and monotony in corporate America. Do you feel the same way? Do you have any other interpretations of the film’s message?” Hopefully you are so lucky to be discussing all-time great comedies in your courses. In any case, utilizing this method will make your posts popular in your online class.

Tips for Responding to Your Peers.

Many professors assign up to half of the available discussion board points to responses to other classmate’s posts. This is where you will appreciate those who put effort into their initial posts and make it easy to respond. The next few points focus on strategies for discussion board responses.

Be Polite.

  • Remember that even though discussion boards are often informal, you are still in a university setting and should maintain professional manners. It is okay to disagree with someone, but do it in a tasteful way. Example: “Your take on that is really interesting and I hadn’t considered that before. When I read that passage I looked at it in a different light.”

Affirm and React.

  • A great way to start a response is acknowledging your classmate’s points that you found interesting, unique, or just well said. Providing affirmation of their opinions helps build a dialogue and makes them feel good about themselves (something that is often returned in kind). React to their points and interpretations and let them know if you agree or not.

Build Upon Their Ideas.

  • After reacting to their post and presenting your initial thoughts, you can really push the discussion forward by taking things a step further. Maybe you felt that Office Space really did criticize corporate culture, but you can add that it also emphasized the importance of finding something you enjoy for work. Don’t stop at affirming and reacting, make your responses substantial.

Acknowledge Different Perspectives.

  • Keep in mind that your classmates all come from different backgrounds, religions, political beliefs, and cultures. Everyone carries their own unique perspective and personality into their courses with them, and it is important to understand and respect differences. Discussion boards offer an opportunity to expose yourself to different ideas and develop a deeper, well-rounded world-view. Maintaining positive relationships with your classmates is a part of this as well. If you are in a more specialized class further into your college career you may be interacting with future colleagues in your profession. Always be building positivity for the future.
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