The discussion board is dead.

I’m not going to bury the lead here: I think it is lazy for e-learners to rely on integrated discussion boards as a complete and authentic discussion solution.

Last semester I was in two classes that were completely online. Both have a “discussion” part of the grade that I was failing miserably at. Why? Because the discussion is so forced. Each of them require I post by Wednesday and then by Sunday I have to respond to five classmate’s comments. While I don’t mind at all posting to the board with my thoughts on the reading, I think what bothers me most is that most everyone is phoning in the responses. I don’t think my classmates are bad people, or that the intent was poor.

But I do think it is lazy. Here’s why:

  • In an ID program, you are failing to explore new technologies by relying on the pre-baked board. So maybe you don’t have a choice in the LMS that your program chose, I understand. And I’m familiar with the school policies that require a participation grade. But to rely on the technology that comes within the LMS is like sitting on the sidelines when the rest of the world is dancing. There are so many more ways to have discussion! Web chats, video responses, the list goes on and on. And by exposing new Instructional Designers to the many ways to get discussion across over the internet, the more they are likely to adopt it in their future portfolio.
  • The internet is no longer a closed-wall universe. Back in the early ages of the internet, it was almost required to have a discussion board. But as sites become more social and there are more and more places to login I follow an acquaintance on twitter who was encouraged to post discussion on twitter with a particular hashtag. I
  • Focusing the grade on the original response does not encourage discussion. If the rubric explicitly states that I get full credit if I respond to five students, then I will respond to five students. If that student responds back, I will not get notified until I log back in again. When am I most likely to log back in again? Next week, when I have to respond to discussion again.

Please don’t get me wrong and think I hate discussion boards, because I think they still have lots of use on the internet! I’ve been involved in the same board for over a decade and keep coming back because the discussion is thorough, the technology on the board alerts me and allows me to rely via email, or through an app.

Sure, whining on the internet is about as old as the discussion board itself, so how do you stretch discussion beyond the board?

  • Make comments public. Most people try to put their best foot forward when something is being publicly scrutinized. Students will do the same, and even better, if they can take it with them in an online portfolio, then there is a double benefit.
  • Encourage discussion with a broader audience. Allow students to comment, but make them engage their own audiences instead. Have them command their own discussion and show how their friends and colleagues respond. This encourages students to build their networks and utilize them in constructive discussion.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, but I think it’s time to get back into blogging. I should be commenting on my current classes to make sure I get the full points allotted, but I felt the need to finish it instead. Funny how that works sometimes.

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One Comment on “The discussion board is dead.”

  1. Here! Here! I agree whole-heartedly with you Jess–I’m finding the same disappointments and even wrote a similarly-toned critique in my blog http://byanyothernerd.blogspot.com/2012/09/online-education-some-considerations.html) last week. We might need to talk/brainstorm/critique some more! 🙂


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