A digital discussion forum is a great alternative to in-class discussions. Students type their responses, and all students in the class can view and respond to each other’s posts. I will share additional ways you can use a digital discussion below.
Why use it?
Invites all students into the conversation
First, a discussion board provides a format that gets all students into the conversation, especially those who may be more reluctant to speak. Your students who are always ready to share in class still get to contribute–but no one person’s voice is necessarily “louder” than anyone else’s.
Many discussion forum tools have an voice-recording options as well, so students could speak instead of write if that is a preferred or more accessible method for them.
More time = better ideas
Another benefit to using digital discussions, is that they give students time to think about their ideas and put them into writing. When I first started using digital discussions in my class, I was blown away at the thoughtfulness and depth of my students’ responses. Because they didn’t have to immediately have a thought to articulate out loud to the whole class, they were able to compose better responses to the prompt and to each other. Keep in mind, you will need provide specific guidelines and examples in order to get the best quality work.
Finally, changing up the format from an in-class discussion to an online discussion allows the conversation to take place anywhere and anytime. Maybe you have an in-class discussion that is going long and students still have more they want to share, you can continue that conversation in a digital discussion out side of class. You can use a digital discussion in class as well, as a class warm up or a precursor to a bigger discussion like a socratic seminar, where students can share out some initial ideas and generate more divergent ideas.
Example Uses and Adaptations:
In addition to a straight-forward discussion question, there are many different ways you can use a digital discussion board:
Most digital discussion tools (for example, in Schoology and Google Classroom) include settings that prevent students from viewing each others’ posts until they’ve made their own. Because all the students’ responses are in the same thread, you can do a quick scroll to assess students’ levels of understanding.
Digital discussions lend themselves well to student collaboration. For example, if students are working on collaborative projects in small groups, you can create a discussion thread for each group where they can easily communicate and share resources. As a teacher, you are also involved in the conversation, so you can ask and answer questions and monitor collaboration and progress.
Publishing for an audience
Because students can see each others’ posts in a discussion, it works well as a platform for students to share their work. If they are working on a writing assignment, they can share a draft in the discussion board for peer review. Students can also use this to share out a link, a resource they found, or if they created a digital product, say a video for example, they can share that out for the class to view in a digital discussion.
Q and A
Discussion forums can also be used as a place for students to ask and answer questions. For example, when preparing for a test, I would open a discussion forum where my students could ask questions. I encouraged them to help each other, and if they weren’t able to, I would jump in to help the students. Essentially, it turned into an online study group.
Also consider using a discussion board to have students reflect on their learning. Reflection is an important step of the learning process, where students identify their struggles and success and solidify their learning.
A discussion doesn’t have to be in writing! These ideas can also be used by sharing a video or audio recording, and some discussion boards have these tools built in. You can also create an all-video discussion using Flipgrid, which is linked in the resource section of the course.
Here are a few tips for preparing for a digital discussion:
First off, you have to model the experience and provide plenty of examples of the types of posts you are looking for. Giving them guidelines or a structure, or even sentence stems for their posts will help ensure your students have a meaningful online discussion–especially when you are just starting out.
Make discussion prompts relevant and personal–about their own thoughts on a specific text, content, video, etc. Questions like “what part of the reading was most interesting to you?” will elicit much better and unique responses than “summarize the reading”. Don’t ask questions where your students will all respond the same way or questions that have right or wrong answers.
Encourage participation through positive feedback
You also want to give timely and clear feedback on their posts. Personally reach out to reluctant students individually to encourage participation. You will likely also need to be involved in the discussion especially when you are first getting started. Validate students responses and and offer encouraging feedback to continue to build the conversation. Ultimately, you want the discussion to be student-led, but that may require modeling and feedback from you and practice from the students.
Also, know when the conversation is over. The richer the discussion topic, the richer the responses will be. However, every conversation will run its course, so don’t try to make a discussion board continue beyond what is meaningful for the participants.
There are many programs for creating a digital discussion, and if you already have a learning management system, for example Google Classroom or Schoology, you can create a discussion there.