eCoaching Tip 103 Best Discussion Forums Ever

October 19 2012

eCoaching Tip:  Best Discussion Forums Ever

We had a great webinar on Monday October 15 on Best Discussion Forums Ever.  Thanks to the many faculty who participated so energetically despite a few tech glitches.

If you weren’t able to be there, the archived Wimba Classroom session and reference resources are in the “Webinar Archives” content area within the SLPA Faculty Webinars Blackboard community site.

We wrapped up the webinar by creating a quick list of favorite ideas and insights on enhancing discussion forums and it seems like a good idea to share this in this follow-up note.

In addition Brian Sesack, who has been teaching Principles of Organizational Leadershipthis fall, and Coralyn McCauley, who is teaching Research and Evaluation in Behavioral Sciences this fall, shared more detailed tools that they find useful in encouraging dialogue in their discussion forums.

What’s next? Scan the list of favorite ideas and insights from your colleagues for your favorite idea. Then if you can, invest a little time listening to the archive and checking out one or two of the discussion resources. You will probably find at least one suggestion that will be just what you are looking for to liven up, diversify and encourage meaningful learning in your forums.

Quick List of Favorite Ideas and Insights

Here is the list of favorite ideas and insights from the webinar’s participants on enhancing discussions. If you would like to add more/ see more you can post and explore the archive and the discussion resources.

  • Provide examples of excellent discussion threads. (Calhoun)
  • Build variety into the discussion forums, avoiding the same types of questions and responses so that we avoid “learner fatigue.”Build in choice so learners can focus on what really interests them. (Prestopnik)
  • Freshen up the discussions each term by being mindful of current stories in the press, company’s crises and successes. (Ulrich)
  • Weave in autobiographical questions and perspectives as this really stimulates learners’ emotions and helps them integrate content into their own lives.(Mazade)
  • Enjoy having the ability to add Ted Talks and YouTube videos as reinforcement, as BB is now very friendly to do this. (Vittitoe)
  • Integrating videos works well, too. (McIver-McHoes)
  • Have students adopt different roles in the forums; learners often react more positively to facilitator comments made by fellow students. (McCauley)
  • Try some of the ideas in one of the earlier slides (and relax my structure a bit, particularly in the short intensive courses) (Sesack)

Brian’s Rubric for Weekly Discussion Contributions

Here is the rubric that Brian Sesack uses to communicate his expectations for learners’ weekly discussion contributions. Thanks much, Brian, for sharing this. Rubrics are a great way of setting expectations for grappling with content and ideas and for supporting each other in community.  I always enjoy examining rubrics for new ideas.

  • Weekly Class Contribution Rubric

Each week you will be asked to participate in the on-line discussion of our readings.  This activity is one of the most subjective and therefore difficult class activities to grade.  In an attempt to establish expectations I’ve listed the following as guidelines for you to earn as many points as possible.

  • Answer each question (40% of the point total)
  • Properly reference your sources of information (10% of the point total)
  • Spell or grammar check your submission (10% of the point total)
  • Respond to your classmates postings with the following in mind (40%):

Ø  How thoughtful and thought-provoking were your posts?

Ø  Did you offer relevant insights based on your reading and professional experience?

Ø  Did you move the discussion forwardby asking relevant questions, suggesting alternate viewpoints, or sharing personal opinions?

Ø  Did you enrich other’s understanding by suggesting deeper meanings?

Ø  Did you expand the range of application to real-life problems?

Coralyn McCauley’s Strategies of Varying Roles within the Forums

Coralyn’s favorite strategy is having students assume different roles within the forum.  And in particular having the learners assume the role of facilitator for the forum. This means that she can step back and focus on what the students are saying and how they are integrating the content and achieving the desired learning outcomes.

Stephen Brookfield, in the resource listed below, suggests a rich array of different possible conversational roles, such as detective, theme spotter, problem poser, analyst, umpire, and scrounger. Taking on a specific responsibility for a discussion is a good way for learners to focus their work with content in new and different ways.

Our Next Webinar

Watch for the doodle survey early in November for our next webinar that will focus on ideas and resources for “Going beyond the Textbook.”


Brookfield, S. (2006) Discussion as a way of teaching. Retrieved October 1 2012 from

Note: This handout is a companion to the book, Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. N. (2005). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms(2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. This resource describes a number of techniques for promoting and facilitating discussions, such as “circle of voices, affirming and challenging quotes, conversational roles, such as detective, theme spotter.” This is a lengthy handout (42 pages); be sure to scan pp. 1-11 and get a sense of the whole.  Many great ideas and groundwork are in this first part of the resource.

Teaching Effectiveness Program. (n.d.). Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions.Teaching and Learning Center at the University of Oregon. Retrieved October 1 2012 from

Here are a few sections of particular interest.  Check out p. 2 of 11 with a list of suggestions for discussion forum activities, such as web field trips, brainstorming, problem-solving, case analysis, collaborative writing, etc.  Also check out the section on Words of Wisdom on pp. 3-4 and three areas of “Student Struggles” on p. 3. Of particular interest may be the table (p. 5) on writing good discussion questions that encourage different kinds of thinking (convergent, divergent and evaluative).

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher