Quick Guide: Discussion Boards

An online discussion board is a great place to expand on a question from the textbook—by providing additional details and/or follow-up guidance—or develop a completely new activity.

Of course, it is helpful to start by writing a discussion question that will spark conversation. The next step is to expand on that question. Think of this as recreating in-person facilitation in a virtual form. Depending on the goals for the assignment, preparing students to participate in the conversation might mean adding more detail or offering more direction—or both.

Strategies to Keep in Mind

First, consider what supplementary questions you might pose to students when discussing this topic in real time. For instance, you might enrich the first question by asking students about their viewpoints, encouraging them to search for proof or examples, or challenging them to defend their statements. Other alternatives include inviting students to connect topics with their recent experiences or find quotations in the readings that add credibility to their answers.

Another way to approach incorporating this enrichment in a discussion board is to examine what you plan to look for when assessing student responses. Before or after the primary question, add a sentence (or two) of additional detail that points students in the right direction, whether that means asking them to include support, explain their perspectives, or explore connections between topics. The more robust their observations are, the more material they give their classmates to react to. If their statements are terse or nominal, there is not much room for their classmates to engage with their ideas.

To extend the conversation, add a sentence (or two) of follow-up guidance to help students sustain a dialogue or continue a debate. Customizing this further guidance for each discussion board conversation encourages engagement with various topics. For example, students could remark on comments that align with or contradict their own positions, ask one another questions about the proof or resources they have gathered, or compliment or critique one another’s arguments. Just as with those first observations, the more completely students articulate their contributions, the more organic and rewarding the conversation will be.


Please use Cognella’s discussion board template. In addition, the following resources provide further information about developing discussions and discussion boards.

Central Michigan University. “Considerations for Writing and Implementing Discussions.” Curriculum and Instructional Support. Accessed January 14, 2022. https://www.cmich.edu/offices-departments/curriculum-instructional-support/access-course-delivery-services/discussion-(board)-based-teaching-and-learning/considerations-for-writing-and-implementing-discussions

Gilliland, Betsy. “Making Discussion Boards More Engaging.” August 6, 2020. http://blog.tesol.org/making-discussion-boards-more-engaging/

Johnson, Stacey M. “Discussion Boards.” Online Course Development Resources. Accessed January 21, 2021. https://www.vanderbilt.edu/cdr/module1/discussion-boards/

Richardson, Jennifer, Sadaf, Ayesha, & Ertmer, Peggy. (2012). “Relationship Between Question Prompts and Critical Thinking in Online Discussions.” 2012. 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch011.