Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Students are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different post.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thoughtForum moderation presents itself as a workable solution.  Forum moderation allows the instructor or designated reviewer to approve the post before it is seen by the rest of the class.  So, with this in mind here are the steps to promoting original responses in discussion board postings:

  1. When creating the forum be sure to ensure that your force moderation of posts.*
  2. Assign a due date for the creation of discussion threads in response to your discussion question.
  3. Do NOT publish/moderate the posts until after the due date.
  4. Turn off post moderation once the due date is reached (you can also disable the ability of the students to add new threads)
  5. Have a separate due date for replies to original postings.

By following these steps, the students make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. Then, when you open the discussion back up for reply the are free to build off of each others’ ideas and continue to interact.

This does entail a little more work on the part of the forum moderator (professor, instructor, TA), but can really go a long way to ensuring the integrity of student discussions.  This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.

*Some Learning Management Systems do not have the ability to moderate posts, so another solution may be in order.