“And not that I’m looking for an answer to the question I’m asking – my main goal
and purpose has always been to just to try and talk to the students through the
forum. Just to try and get some discussion going, trying to figure out who the
Students are, what they’re interested in” (Educator quoted in Farrell et. al, 2019, p. 21)
In this chapter, we will look at how to use asynchronous discussion forums effectively. Discussion forums are a key asynchronous approach to teaching online. Facilitating discussion forums effectively is an important online educator role and competency. Discussion forums are used in online courses to encourage student discourse that may have been provided in the classroom in face to face courses. It can be challenging to meaningfully engage students in online forums, but careful design and management of the forums will result in success. Key to success is ensuring that the discussion forums are meaningful and that students understand, and agree with, the benefits of participation.
What does the literature say?
According to Abdous (2011) online educators “… need to share, listen, answer questions, and show enthusiasm, while paying careful attention to students’ needs, providing direction, and drawing students toward active engagement and participation in the discussion” (p. 66). Corfman and Beck (2019) found requiring participation and providing grades in discussion activities promoted better discussions.
One of the challenges faced by online educators is the difficulty in getting students to post online. Kibaru (2018) interviewed online educators about challenges they faced in online teaching and they found that educators claimed that even when students had clear questions they were sometimes afraid to post this to a discussion forum. One way to overcome this difficulty may be to make sure that the online educator themselves posts early in the class as well as responding individually to students when they post (Peacock & Cowan, 2019; Smits & Voogt, 2017).
Smits and Voogt (2017) recommend that online educators post regularly, at least three times a week, acknowledge individual contributions and include pedagogical feedback. Martin et al. (2019) quoted award-winning educators who said they check their discussion boards every day. Responding to all discussion forums posting may become onerous, particularly in large classes (Kibaru, 2018; Setlhako, 2014). Trammel and LaForge (2017) suggest that “encouraging peer-to-peer interaction will help manage an instructor’s workload in a large class while also meeting student’s preferences”. Additionally, dividing large classes into groups and using grading rubrics will contribute to reducing the load. However, many online educators recognise the value of their work in responding to the forums. “Although this is more work for me I still find this very rewarding as the students are the ones who excel and I feel motivated to further assist them” (Mbati & Minnaar, 2015, p. 280).
Meet our two online educators: Dr. Helen Coker from the University of Dundee and Dr Pauline Rooney from TUDublin.
In this short video Helen and Pauline outline how they use discussion forums.
Student perspective on learning with discussion forums
“Be proactive, not just from our side but also on the teacher side. Like put something up, put some interesting article or some facts or something on the discussion forum”.