Three simple strategies to bring new life to discussion boards

The amount of participation and interaction students experience in their online courses is highly correlated with success.  This can be challenging to keep up with as an online instructor, especially as the semester is in full swing with grading, teaching, service, and more vying for time.  Fortunately, discussion boards can leverage technology’s ability to connect people across time and space, reducing the instructor’s workload.  Even better, connecting students to other people, places, and things around them wherever they are stimulates rich peer-to-peer discussions about content in real world contexts.  Following are three basic ideas to adapt for your own use in discussion boards or assignments, bringing new life to your course .

People:  Rather than wishing our students could meet f2f, what opportunities does having a class full of people living in different places bring us?

  • Have each student interview three people with a question related to your content, such as, “What do you think the best thing about online learning is?”  Students can post their findings, then compare their findings to others.  Throw in some twists, such as asking a child, a peer, an elderly person, etc…

fatigued-1822678_1920Places:  Having to sit in a computer lab to take an online course is a thing of the past, and today’s smartphones allow us to capture and share the world around us.  What can your students find in their world related to your content, creating a cross-section of perspectives?

  • With their phones, have students take pictures of examples showing your content in action, posting to a discussion.   You may have to point them in the right direction and share your own example, but imagine how rich the ensuing discussions can be based on 20+ real life examples of their subject in action!  With advance notice so students can schedule their time, you can require students take an individual “field trip” to places such as libraries, museums, stores, businesses, etc…, providing them with a template to guide them.

Things:  I remember times feeling like a packhorse, bringing all kinds of things into my classroom for students to see and touch related to unit concepts.  How much more convenient to have students seek out certain things in their environment to share with the class via an image or short video?

  • Ideas of things worthy of discussion can be as simple or as complicated as your imagination.  Students could take a picture of a favorite book or toy, share an example of a product manufactured a certain way, find a specific engine part, share an example of something eco-friendly, the sky’s the limit (or not, Jennifer Johnson takes great cloud pictures!).  One assignment during my doctorate was finding examples of good and bad design.  This gave rise to all kinds of discussions about motivations behind the design.  My example used the same object, my Georgia work boots, highlighting gender bias.  Great design in many ways; bad design because I wore men’s boots to have the good holes for pulling them on and off; women’s didn’t have those.   Kick it up a notch, and have students make a short video or annotate their images!

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