Skip to main content

The use of Discussion Boards of Forums to support teaching and learning has a 20 plus year history of practice and scholarly research. Early research published at the beginning of the 2000s came from the likes of Professors Gilly Salmon in the UK and Alfred P. Rovai in the United States. Whilst much of the initial practice and research has been in the fields of blended, online and distance learning, papers now appear more widely across Higher Education teaching and discipline focused journals.

Discussion boards are classed as asynchronous tool, as interaction is not time bound in the same way as a traditional teaching session is timetabled. Often teaching and learning activities via discussion boards take place over half a day to one to two weeks. 

There are a wide variety of reasons why you may utilise discussion boards in your blended, remote and online teaching. Our list centres on learning focused, support and informal discussion board themes. 

  1. Learning Focused Discussions

These discussions tend to be created and facilitated by teaching staff (academic, English language, careers, library, elearning etc)

  • Introductions / Getting Started: These discussions are provide a space for staff and students to introduce themselves and get to know each other. A successful activity here is to ask students to post in response to the prompt
  • "[                ] for me is like ... " Ask your students to look for, and choose, an image or object (it will have to be an image of an object!) or any other artefact such as an audio or video clip, a person, a short piece of text, that symbolises "[          ]" for you, posting their object in a message along with a brief explanation of what it symbolises.
  • Group Rules / Setting Expectations: Run at the start of a course or module and focusing on issues of expectations (Teacher< > Student and Student > Student) these discussion are important for setting students up for success generally and in terms of working together in groups.
  • Time to Talk, Pause for Thought / Have our Say: We’ve found it useful to badge discussions to indicate to students the expectations for engagement. In one example Time to Talk discussions required students to post where as Have Your Say discussions were optional in terms of posting engagement.
  • Visible Formative Assignments: Students can benefit from seeing examples of their peer’s writing and the resulting feedback. Feedback should then be clearly indicated as to whether it is peer or tutor.

2. Support Discussions

There are a numbers of discussion areas commonly created to support the smooth running of a course.

  • Technical Help: A space used to collect questions and to receive answers, hints and tips from both students and staff.
  • Top Tips for Success: You may wish to curate and share top tips from previous cohorts, peers and staff.
  • I’m Away / I’m Back: This type of discussion area works well in postgraduate and online courses that recruit professionals from practice, older students and staff (such as PGCHE / PCAP). Where students may be called away on deployment / to other sites, need to attend conferences, caring responsibilities or experiencing illness.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): an open access area whether ideally you only need to answer a question once and the whole cohort can access the information. Staff may wish to seed this area in response to questions received by email, corridor, face-to-face or online classroom space.

3. Informal Discussions

Knowing your student cohort and their needs will drive the success of informal discussion spaces. In the same way that a communal physical room does not automatically build community, sparking discussion or sharing ideas and resources, an online space needs purposeful design and leadership.

  • Social Space / Community Building: These spaces tend to more successful with larger online only cohorts that have a strong identity. If creating such a space think through its purpose and discuss with your students the reasons for its use. Some cohorts may use these spaces to share job adverts, news items etc.
  • Student Led Topics: Some virtual learning environments including Canvas allow staff to let students create discussion topics. These work better with online cohorts with a strong identity, cause or reason for creating and contributing to their own discussions.

Once you have decided on the type of discussion board you will use you then need to explore both purposeful activity design and moderation plans.

  1. Salmon, G., 2003. E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. Psychology Press.
  2. Salmon, G., 2013. E-tivities: The key to active online learning. Routledge.
  3. Hinton, D. (2020) Discussion Boards for Remote Teaching, Remote Teaching Resource, University of Birmingham, [Online]
  4. Hinton, D. (2020) Exploring the Anatomy of an Online Discussion Board Activity, Pedagogy and Pancakes CPD Series, University of Lincoln, [Online]