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Discussion boards: Strategies to Increase Online Student Engagement

Learn how to make multipurpose use of discussion boards with these strategies and improve student engagement levels during online courses.

It is always a struggle to maintain consistent student engagement during online classes. Especially now when our attention spans have downsized to TikTok's 10-second window. Then how can teachers retain high student engagement? Turn out, discussion boards are a great way of tackling this issue. Let's learn how!

Let's first establish that merely using discussion board tools won't get you out of this rut. In fact, it requires a lot more work. The trick is not simply using these communication channels but how an instructor uses them. This article will look at some creative ways of using discussion boards.

See also: 9 Best online student engagement strategies.

Communication is pretty swift during the synchronous course since all interaction occurs in real time. However, in the case of asynchronous courses student participation is likely to stagger. Merely posting comments on each other's posts doesn't make up for the excitement of face-to-face discussion. Consequently, students lose any motivation to participate, and discussion stalls.

Something similar is also true in the case of synchronous learning. Often with live interaction, one is unable to communicate all things. In that case, having a discussion board comes in handy with which people can stay in touch even outside of office hours, so to speak.

In a way, these tools are about making the virtual learning space more communal. Given the remote learning times, it is necessary to diminish these distances and bring learners closer.

Discussion board engagement strategies

A noted problem with these communication channels and chat threads is that they can get caught in a repetitive cycle. Here the instructor has a fixed role, and students are required to respond to the topics in a monotonous regimen. Students find this sort of compulsion off-putting. That is why it is important to shake things up from time to time.

The following strategies are creative solutions for how you can make the most out of discussion boards.

1. Classroom assessment technique

Also known as CAT is an instant assessment technique for measuring how well student learning is progressing. There are two ways of implementing this technique in your discussion threads. First is the Minute paper test. It is a kind of follow-up to the lecture where students share the most important takeaway from the lesson. This way, instructors can know how well their students follow along with the content.

Another way of using CAT is the Muddiest point. Here the learners share the contents they found confusing during the lecture so the instructor may explain them better.

Both these techniques allow teachers to be on top of things. At the same time, students feel a sense of accountability and feel necessary to share their views on the discussion boards.

2. Collaborative note-taking

Did you know that discussion boards can also be used for note-taking? Interesting isn't it! Students can post to the notes thread and add whatever notes they took during the session or reading. Others can join in to fill in the gaps and clear any points where they have confusion. Teachers can also use this opportunity to assess where students have misunderstandings regarding the course contents.

3. Social connection channels

Discussion boards don't always have to be strictly professional and curt. They can also be fun and a great way of socializing with peers. That is why divide the discussion threads according to themes. Keep one for informal communication where people can simply share their day-to-day thoughts, wish birthdays, or ask for movie recommendations.

Another great way of encouraging socialization amongst students for learning purposes is through dyadic interviews. Here students pair together and do a brief interview of each other regarding beliefs and experiences relevant to the course. Later they post these videos to the board where others can interact. It is a dynamic model where learners use all learning modalities like writing, speaking, etc.

4. Q&A sessions

Teacher office hours are usually limited, and not everyone can address their queries during these times. In these cases, discussion boards can act as a parallel query resolution mechanism. Students can post their issues and teachers respond to them in a timely fashion. Moreover, sometimes teachers can also use some feedback. They can post a prompt and have students respond to that. A great example of that is polls where participants can vote up or down and give their opinions.

5. Idea box

For when you run out of ideas and how to keep things interesting, have an idea channel where people can make pitches. They can range from anything to everything, whether course materials or gamification tips. It is handy to have one. However, it makes students feel part of the course development process. This makes them both feel in charge and responsible for the course, in turn, increases engagement levels.

See also: Discussion forum - a perfect tool for building student community.

Dos and don'ts of discussion boards

To make the lives of course creators easy, most LMSs offer an in-built discussion board feature. Similarly, Teachfloor provides its users with communication spaces where they can share their thoughts, questions, and opinions for others to see and respond to. If yours does not come with a communication channel, here are some handy examples of free online discussion board tools.

  1. NowComment: It lets students to markup and discuss with the teacher in control of commenting rights.
  2. Kialo: Encourages students to engage in topic mapping and debates.
  3. Backchannel Chat: Offers added control to the moderator with a chat locking feature.
  4. Flipgrid: Users can post videos as responses to the discussion grids.

A rookie mistake that instructors make with discussion boards is that they give a lot of control to the hands of students. This can make oversight difficult. Therefore, keep minimal but steady oversight. Don't become a leader instead be a moderator. This way learners have enough space to develop critical thinking and a direction to follow.

A good way of avoiding this mistake is by setting ground rules, a code of conduct, and developing a structure for responses. These pointers will let the users manage their behavior on the threads and make things easier for instructors to manage.

While you set a structure, avoid getting fixated on the binaries of right and wrong. These discussion channels are meant to be encouraging spaces for participants to voice their opinions. Fear of giving the 'wrong' answer can discourage students from sharing their thoughts.

Lastly, keep things afresh. Respond to comments and posts regularly and avoid getting comments stale as that can lead to dead communication and decreasing engagement student engagement.


Who knew discussion boards could be that multi-dimensional? Not only can you use them as communication channels for addressing course-related queries but you can also use them for networking, assessments, and keeping up with peers. They are no doubt a great resource for escaping laborious and often isolating online learning. Students feel motivated to participate as it helps develop their critical thinking skills. Teachers too can take a break with it as it makes course oversight easier for them.

These strategies are sure to give your discussion boards and your online courses an edge. Do use them in your courses and see a definite improvement in student activity in your courses.

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