In the hybrid classes that I teach, how and when to use the discussion board is something that I wrestle with each semester. The discussion board can be an excellent forum for discussion and exploration of historical topics, or it can be an unpopular dead zone. When I first began teaching online using the Blackboard LMS, I created discussion boards because it was a requirement and, although they served the basic purpose of, obviously, discussing historical topics we were covering in the class, they were pretty stagnant. Perhaps it was the questions, perhaps the students. Whatever the cause, they weren’t very exciting. The first time I taught a hybrid class, I abandoned the discussion board, believing that topics could be discussed better in class. I have since embraced the discussion board as a tool that can be used in a number of ways, incorporating other technologies such as Google Docs, Prezi, Microsoft Office, and history websites.
The following are ways that discussion boards might be incorporated into hybrid classes, as well as online and web-enhanced face-to-face classes. The first three are ways in which I current use the discussion board and the remaining two are ideas that I’m working on integrating into my classes in the future.
First, the discussion forums can be used to post questions for students to ponder and discuss or debate. I am careful to write prompts that encourage students to consider a historical issue and take a side. In addition to written prompts, links to websites, documents, images and videos can be integrated into the posts (Luckhardt, 2014). Students are required to post a response to the prompt then comment on at least two other posts by the end of the week.
Second, in hybrid classes, there is often limited time to allow for student research presentations. Discussion forums can be used in conjunction with presentation software, such as Prezi, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides, to share research presentations with the class. Students can either upload their presentations or provide a link so that classmates can view their presentations. Requiring student to comment on presentations encourages them to view the presentations. In addition to individual presentations, students can also use the discussion board to collaborate on group projects.
Third, discussion boards can be used for online office hours or FAQs (Meyer, 2012). In the past I have tired using Blackboard Chat and Blackboard Collaborate for online office hours with little luck. In my Writing Intensive (WI) classes, I have a tutor from the Writing Center assigned to my class. Using a discussion forum in Blackboard, both the tutor and I can respond to questions posted by students or hold online office hours.
Fourth, the discussion forums can be used for document analysis. Lane (2014) and Luckardt (2014) noted that students gain historical thinking skills through such online labs and, although I have yet to use the discussion board this way, I look forward to incorporating this method into my courses next semester. PDF or JPG files of documents are loaded into the discussion board forum for students to review and analyze in groups. All students can be assigned the same document(s) or documents with their corresponding questions can be assigned to smaller groups of students. Linking to http://www.ourdocuments.gov is an alternative to posting files the files.
Finally, discussion boards can be used for peer review of writing assignments. Again, I have yet to use this in my lower-division hybrid classes, but Hudson (2007) noted that peer review can be particularly valuable to students as a learning experience. Taking peer review from the classroom to the discussion board allows students more time to review and comment on writing (Knight and Steinbach (2011) and, if a writing tutor is assigned to the class, they might also hold online peer review sessions through the discussion forum.
At this point, I am comfortable using discussion boards to hold online office hours or answer questions, assign and moderate discussion topics and as a presentation forum. I can also assist students with the various types of presentation software. However, I see great potential in developing an online peer review process in conjunction with my college’s Writing Center. As more and more courses are offered in online and hybrid format, helping students develop strong writing skills can be facilitated through the peer review process. I would recommend that a group of tutors and faculty from English, as well as other disciplines, develop a process and share best practices through professional development workshops.
Hudson, J. A. (2007). Writing, technology and writing technologies: Developing multiple literacies in first-year college composition students. International Journal of Learning, 13(12), 93-100.
Knight, L. V., & Steinbach, T. A. (2011). Adapting peer review to an online course: An exploratory case study. Journal of Information Technology Education, 1081-100.
Lane, L. M. (2014). Constructing the past online: Discussion board as history lab. History Teacher, 47(2), 197-207.
Luckhardt, C. (2014). Teaching historical literacy and making world history relevant in the online discussion board. History Teacher, 47(2), 187-196.
Meyer, K. A. (2012). Technology review: Creative uses of discussion boards: Going beyond the ordinary. Community College Enterprise, 18(2), 117-121.