The Power of Online Discussion Forums: Engagement and Connection

Sep 24, 2020 2:32:42 PM

Learning happens most effectively in a participatory and supportive community—one where every student feels heard. Building those communities in an online environment can be challenging. That’s why using a suite of engagement tools that includes support for discussion is so essential. A well-designed online discussion can help students and instructors build better learning environments where every student excels.

Today, when so many instructors are teaching online for the first time, institutions are looking for ways to deploy tools and technologies to build connections with students. That’s critical. But we should also remember that discussion boards are an important pedagogical tool, one that allows students to deepen their learning as they learn how to share ideas with each other—explaining what they’ve learned, defending a position, and bringing their learning out of their heads and into the real world.

Rhonda D. Blackburn, Chief Learning Officer at Ignite Nation, a company that partners with schools to deliver customizes, research-based mentoring support, and President of the country’s first distance-learning association, USDLA, has over 20 years of experience in remote learning that spans K-12, higher education, and corporate training. In partnership with Harmonize, she recently authored a new guide outlining best practices for online discussions. In the guide, she covers many of the essentials--including how to engage students more authentically, how to align discussions more closely to course objectives, and how to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

Some of the questions this guide answers include:

  • What are best practices with regard to developing discussion boards?
  • Why are well developed discussion boards important to the development of a course?
  • What are the best ways to assess discussion boards?
  • Who would you involve in implementing discussion boards?
  • What data and research support the implementation of discussion boards?

Today, as pandemic forces many of us to log on—often reluctantly—to yet another Zoom meeting, it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary online learning can be. We talk to instructors every day who are breaking down barriers and making new connections with students from all over the world. They are using discussion boards to help students make real connections with each other, often overcoming isolation and loneliness. Being present, being engaged, and being supportive—these attributes of successful classrooms can be nourished in an online forum as well, through well-organized, carefully assessed, and equitable online discussions.

Download Guide

And use it to help inform your teaching practice or share with your colleagues.


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