Digital Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse Rotating Header Image

Teaching & Learning Online: Discussion Forums


For “netiquette” and responsible language-use policies, consider involving students when creating rules for online communication. Ask students to conduct an  online search on this topic and then post 5 – 7 rules on the course Discussion Board explaining why the class  should adhere to these rules when communicating online. Ask them to explain their choices and to discuss why it is  important to have these kinds of guidelines. Use this student input when creating the guidelines your class will follow. 

Working with generative discussion-forum posts and online conversations: posts should help move the discussion along and should generatively include one of the following:

  • Additional ideas and sources
  • Insights or questions about classmates’ comments
  • Connections to the course readings
  • Explanation of how one can apply course learnings to their own personal or professional life

Alternative model on generative ideas:

  • Intertextual collaboration: building on, adding to, and substantively reshaping previous posts
  • Perspectives: provide your perspective
  • Ideas: add additional ideas
  • Examples: provide examples to support your idea
  • Questions: ask follow-up questions

Discussion forums as multimodal composing?

Discussion forums like the one I describe here “count” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because they combine best practices like measurable learning outcomes with authentic student voices using digital tools.  Dialogic communication is tough to engender in online learning environments, but I think it’s important to keep trying, using new tech like VoiceThread to add voices and even faces to the convo.

— Jeanne Law-Bohannon, “Multimodal Mondays: What Counts as Multimodal? Creating Dialogic Learning Opportunities in Online Discussion Forums”

Possible reflective component during the course — mid-term? — or in the course portfolio:

  • Review their postings on a topic and show how their understanding of that topic has changed
  • Review all postings on a topic and report on the range of class opinion on or understanding of a topic, and how it differs from theirs
  • Select a topic on which there is divided opinion and show how they engaged meaningfully and effectively with others in class with differing views and to justify their strategy
  • Ask, “If you were posting now on a topic from early in the course, what would it be and how would it differ from the postings you contributed at the time?”
  • Portfolio prompt [revise for your purposes]: As educators and students are increasingly exposed to — and participate in — online writing courses such as ours, we often weigh the trade-offs between what we value in face-to-face discussions (spontaneity, for example) and opportunities for writing and discussion online.

    Some people argue that discussions online are limiting or not as meaningful as face-to-face discussions. Others argue that online discussions can sometimes be richer than in face-to-face environments because it allows people who tend to be quiet in classes more time to collect their thoughts and can share them in more of an even playing field; or that we all can benefit from taking more time to re-read, to revise our thoughts, and to reflect before posting in an online forum. What is your experience in this area? Do you find that online discussions in our course were limiting, or did they seem more open with more time for you to think and to respond?