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Examples of How to Use A Discussion Board

Hopefully you have accessed and used the discussion board for this class already. If you have not done so, you might wish to explore it during this lesson. You will observe that the discussion board is divided by the use of Forums (headings of a sort) and Threads (subheadings within each forum).  Learning to manage a bulletin board effectively can result in a highly interactive and exciting online or hybrid course.  Often it is poor use of a discussion board that fundamentally undermines the value of the online experience, turning a class that might have provided rich interaction into a correspondence course where students feel isolated.

The discussion board to the right shows a WebCT discussion board.  It is also divided into Topic Forums.  Dividing a discussion board into topic forums helps students (and you) to quickly navigate to the section you need to read.  Notice that the WebCT board show the number of unread posts.  Once you click on the topic you are sent to the actual discussion board.

You can chose to further divide the discussion board into questions related to the topic. Students can then post their response to the question and comment on each other's work.  Often students quickly learn to analyze each other's work.  Students are writing for a "real" audience and their desire to write clearly and offer something of substance to the conversation is significantly enhanced.

Depending on subject matter it is often most effective to post questions that require students to analyze an issue or offer an informed opinion supported by the evidence.  A litany of canned factual responses to a narrow question does not make for a good discussion.  Although it can help to clarify what students understand and what they do not.  Simple factual questions and answers are often best left to quiz formats.  

Additional options for use of a discussion board follow.  These examples from Santa Monica illustrate the use of a variety of other boards.

This example shows a very simple Question and Answer bulletin board.  In this introductory chemistry class taught by Professor Peggy Kline at Santa Monica College, student's questions are listed with the most recent first, and Peggy's replies are listed in the right hand column.  As you scroll down the list, and therefore backwards in time, you can see how the questions evolved from very general questions about the course and about Peggy, to detailed questions about course content.  Many questions have been deleted since the original list was very long.  Note in particular a few instances where Peggy has copied content from an email message received from a student, then pasted it into the question and answer forum instead.  This strategy quickly teaches the students to use the bulletin board instead of email unless the question is personal.

Chemistry question and answer bulletin board

Here is a more typical threaded discussion in which the indentation of comments indicates whether the individual is initiating a new topic or replying to a topic that someone else has already posted.  In this example, Professor Kay Azuma of Santa Monica College has chosen to initiated a "thread" about genetics for her Human Biology class.  She posts problems and asks her students to post their answers.  You can see how she encourages student participation by using their names in the examples, and how she gently corrects students who have posted incorrect answers, leading them to the right conclusion without stating it directly.

Genetics problems with student solutions

Here's a interesting example that makes use of voice software sold by wimba.com.  It is a discussion board in which the comments and replies can be heard via streaming audio rather than read.  Why?  Well, as illustrated in this example from a Spanish 1 class taught by Professor Maria Erickson at Santa Monica College, there are some disciplines in which the students' must be heard by their instructor!  And if you're not a Spanish speaker, fear not--you can still get an idea of how this software works and how effective it can be for instruction in language and speech classes.

Voice-based Spanish lessons

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