March 7th, 2013

Three Ways to Change up Your Online Discussion Board Prompts


Are you having trouble getting students to participate in online discussions? Consider using other types of prompts in addition to the typical open-ended question. Maria Ammar, assistant English professor at Frederick Community College, uses the following prompts in her English as a second language course and recommends them for other types of courses:

  1. Articles—Post an article in the discussion board and have students do an activity related to its content. This gives students more content on which to comment than a typical prompt that consists solely of a question.
  2. Audio—Post an audio prompt. Listening is an integral part of learning a language. It also is a medium that students are comfortable with and find interesting. Ammar has students post their notes on radio broadcasts in a threaded discussion. “Even though everybody is listening to the same [content], they may catch different things,” Ammar says.
  3. Video—Even more engaging is video. Simply post a link to a YouTube video (or one from another source), and ask students to comment or answer an open-ended questions about it.

In courses that are intended to develop students’ writing skills, the discussion board can be an excellent way to get students to write on a regular basis. However, one of the obstacles to students’ full participation in this type of learning is some students’ reluctance to share things that they consider too personal.

One way to address this is to have students write in personal online journals that only the individual student and instructor can access. Ammar does not give students the option of posting in the journal instead of posting to the discussion board. They are both required activities, but some students tend to participate more actively in one or the other.

In some cases the prompt can be the same for the threaded discussion and the journal entry. For example, she once asked students to view an ABC News video of an art project in New York City in which pianos were placed throughout the city for members of the public to play. The video showed interviews with people who played. In the threaded discussion, students summarized the comments of several interviewees, and she asked students write about their personal reflections about the project.

Ammar does not grade online discussion posts or journal entries for grammar or spelling “because I just want to see that they’re able to communicate. I check those things in their [formal] papers.”

Reprinted from Tips From the Pros: Creative Uses of Discussion Boards Online Classroom, (February 2012): 1.3.