Still using that old discussion board? Yep.

With all the tools available, should we even still use the old discussion board built in to our LMSs? I do. Not always or in every class, but often. My main goal for students in all of my classes is to learn to recognize how things are not just how they are, they’re how we’ve made them. My goal if for them to see how the status quo is created, maintained, and challenged. Often I think of this in terms of content (what we read), but what about our assignments? How am I checking on their ability to generate questions about the world and challenge our constructions of “normal”?

When I first started teaching, I gave very simple multiple-choice reading quizzes. While this is not necessarily bad practice, it wasn’t critical at all. I then started requiring students to use the discussion board to discuss the readings. But when thoughtful, analytical discussions didn’t always spring up naturally, I began to create discussion questions for them – directing them to answer the types of analytical questions they should be learning to ask on their own instead of actually helping them build that skill. Learning how to ask interrogating and analytical questions is learning to be a critical thinker.

Especially after COVID, the old post-response-rejoinder formula is one students have encountered, and maybe even tired of. But this model, with clear expectations (e.g. specific minimum word counts for each task), can be very effective in promoting dialogue and interaction. I now have students post a notable quote or cite a passage from the required resource along with one or two “analytical questions.” I require this original post to be at least 200 words. The other students and I respond to the analytical questions. This practice promotes guided and meaningful interaction with me, the other students, and the course materials. I often split students into groups (depending on class size) and have one group be the question-posters and another be the response group, then flip it the following week. At the beginning of each semester, I spend some time clearly explaining, deconstructing, and modeling good, analytical discussion questions. The first week I provide some very good but slightly flawed example questions that we can evaluate together.

One of my students last semester exclaimed, “Coming up with analytical questions is so much harder than responding to the ones you give us!” Indeed, we know as professors that coming up with good, thoughtful discussion questions each week can be challenging and time-consuming because they force us to think deeply about the materials and their relationship to our overall course themes and objectives. But this practice allows the students to lead their own discussion while also letting me keep the course on track and facilitate their learning. One student explained that when she “saw the types of questions other people were posting, [she] actually learned how ask better ones.” That’s the idea.

Consider combining some student-generated discussion questions along with professor-prepared discussion questions. See some examples of assignment descriptions and modeling below—feel free to cut and paste!

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