Online Discussions: Blackboard, WordPress, Google, & Canvas

Connecting, sharing, discussing through blogs, discussion forums, and hangouts

What is It?

Often one of the most challenging aspects of an CTL course is getting students to interact as a class in an asynchronous environment. Many different tools can provide  opportunities for students to share experiences, resources, and reflections  and  provide a space for students to interact with each other and the instructor. Using tools such as discussion forums and blogs  can help  foster a cohort of students’ sense of  community while engaging in meaningful conversation around a topic.

How Can I Facilitate Discussion in My Online Course?

Reflective Writing Responses — Individual students use blogs and forums to create and collect reflective exercises such as journals, assignment responses, or directed writing exercises. Instructors don’t have to collect, sort, and archive email messages or bulletin board entries. Because entries are “published’ rather than simply sent to an individual, it highlights and reinforced the idea of semi-formal discourse. If a it  is  made public (or shared with just the rest of the class), then the student will gain practice writing for others. Students and faculty can then comment on those reflections.

Create a Class Community — A single blog or forum can be maintained by a group of  student authors  and  is a natural method for creating a class community. Each instructor will need to facilitate the flow of posts, model good posting  behaviors, and define expectations for what students can (and should) post. The discussion  may  be topical or it may be assignment driven.

Create a Collaborative Resource — Students can collaboratively build discussion around a specific topic as a good exercise in research and writing. This development may result in a genuinely useful resource to the world at large.  Many platforms are easy for students and faculty alike to use.

Peer Review — Have students post their work to a blog or forum to get comments back from other students and other blog readers. Allowing others to evaluate our ideas is an important part of the learning process and the added impact of getting comments (potentially) from experts outside of the class can be a powerful motivator.

Weekly discussion questions — Weekly class participation in the form of responding to a weekly discussion topic or question. Students read the discussion question of the week. Shorter posts are more appropriate as students reflect for a shorter amount of time.

Discussions within specific content — Posted two to three times a semester as a way to summarize or emphasize specific course content. For example, after an exam or a paper, etc.

Gamify your discussions – give points for providing an argument or counterargument and supporting facts for reasoning and use a leaderboard.  

Student’s Questions — give students an opportunity to come up with a topic of discussion. If the class has a large enrollments the students can be divided into groups and each group can take turns proposing a topic   of a week, etc.

Student Lounge — to give students a space for peer-to-peer interaction.

Feedback and help — technical help, problems with content, etc;   also as   virtual office hours with proper instructions on when to expect response.

Considerations for Online Courses

Are you engaging students in meaningful discussion in your online course? Are the questions you are asking open-ended and thought provoking? Do you ask students to bring in current events into the discussion? Are you using multi-media as a means to instruct or enrich your discussion prompts?

In Practice

Here are some examples of using discussion in classes:

  • Introduction to Justice — (JUST_F110X_2015_CTL_Demo) Gary Copus
    Solid structure, use of video and audio presentations, discussion board (demo courses on Blackboard are available for you to self-enroll in)
  • Explorations in Music – Good example of student blogging on WordPress for reflection and peer response.
  • JRN 101: The Haveman Chronicle – Good example of students participating in WordPress community and discussion based around a stratified learning experience.
  • ENGL 111 – Good example of rich discussion prompts.


Online Discussion

Research Foundations

Bliss, C. A., & Lawrence, B. (2009). From posts to patterns: A metric to characterize discussion board activity in online courses.  Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks,  13(2), 15-32.

Darabi, A.,   Arrastia, M.C., Nelson, D.@., Cornille, T., & Liang, X. (2018).  Cognitive presence in asynchronous online learning: a comparison of four discussion strategies.

Morueta, R. T., López, P. M., Gómez, Á. H., & Harris, V. W. (2016). Exploring social and cognitive presences in communities of inquiry to perform higher cognitive tasks. The Internet and Higher Education, 31, 122-131.

Nandi, D., Hamilton, M., & Harland, J. (2012).  Evaluating the quality of interaction in asynchronous discussion forums in fully online courses.  Distance Education 33(1).

Xie, K., Yu, C., & Bradshaw, A. C. (2014). Impacts of role assignment and participation in asynchronous discussions in college-level online classes. The Internet and Higher Education, 20, 10-19.