Not Another Online Weekly Dreaded: Respond to a Question and Reply to Three Peers…
Well, at least that was my feeling towards the weekly required online discussion boards when I was going to school fully online for my graduate degree nearly 10 years ago. I mean, I get it; we need some type of weekly platform to encourage students to engage with one another by stimulating conversations and dialog among one another. However, from the looks of it, not much has changed from these weekly required discussions that were not all that stimulating back then and appear to be the same today.
While participating in an intensive training to transform our assigned college courses into fully functioning Hyflex courses—a course structure that gives students the option of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online, or doing both—I began to shift my focus more and more towards the student’s needs. As I thought of creative coursework designs to cultivate more culturally responsive teaching, I quickly remembered how much I dreaded answering the required weekly discussions when I was a student. I decided it was time to make online weekly discussion boards more relevant and meaningful to students.
So why is that? Why is it that I once dreaded, as well as many other students, these weekly student engagement discussions? Aren’t these student engagement discussions supposed to be, well, engaging?
Quite frankly, most discussion boards felt “required”; just another item to check off the list as being completed. Often, the weekly discussion prompt questions were mundane and much of the same. Basically, it was not relatable to me personally and did not feel “stimulating” or “engaging.” Oh, and don’t forget, we also had to respond to at least two other peers substantially with peaking, stimulating conversation over the same mundane discussion board.
So as instructors and professors, or better yet, creators of our course content and lesson plans, I wondered how we could make discussion boards more engaging and relatable to students’ interests. Is it possible to create discussion boards that students, like myself 10 years ago, would willingly want to fully participate in and share open dialog with one another?
For starters, if these discussion boards are meant to stimulate and encourage student interaction and conversation, then we should attempt to create discussion boards that are more personally stimulating and appealing to students.
How to Create Discussion Boards that are Engaging and Appealing to Students.
First and foremost, think of the students!
Although we (instructors, teachers, and professors who create and teach classes) may have several great discussion board plans that appeal to us personally, we need to angle our discussion prompts to appeal more to the student’s personal interests. Now there is no way we can know each student’s array of personal interests unless we outright,ask each student. However, we can design discussion prompts that will tug on a student’s personal interests or relate to some degree of the student’s personal, professional, and educational experiences.
With this intention, we can still use our collection of scholarly articles, lectures, and other course objective resources in our discussion boards. We angle the discussion prompts to probe for student conversation that encourages students to respond with relatable personal experiences within the resources provided and the questions asked.
For example, rather than asking the class to read an article and provide three takeaways from the article that stood out, we can ask, based upon the article provided, are there any relatable moments that you have experienced in your life that correlate with some of the key points in the article?
Provide a Variety of Methods for Student Responses!
Yes, that is right! There are several methods of responding to the discussion boards that our Learning Management Systems, like Canvas, are equipped with. Students, like ourselves, have different ways of learning and engaging.
For some, text responding is preferred; however, for others, perhaps audio or video will bring out an enhanced and creative dialog among students. Either way, when we allow and encourage students to respond in a method that best suits the student’s preferred method of conversation, students will likely share and discuss more! Therefore, the once online dreaded weekly discussions have become the spark of the conversation.