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Getting the Discussion Going in an Online Forum

Dec 2, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

The online forum is where you really get to connect with your fellow students and teachers, share ideas, and get your questions answered. Contributing to an online forum can also be part of your grade in some online courses—and you may be graded on the quality of your posts as well as the quantity. So it’s in everybody’s best interests to keep the discussion going in your class’s online forum.  Here are a few ways you can ensure the conversation doesn’t go south—and get the most from your online forum participation.


Do your research 

Before you get into the discussion, make sure you’ve done all the reading. It might sound obvious, but if you haven’t had time to read all the source material, you’ll miss out on some sides of the discussion. You may also waste time by asking questions you’re already expected to know—a red flag to your instructor that you haven’t been keeping up with assignments.

Ask question

However, it’s critical to ask questions—these incite responses and keep the conversation going. Ask questions that encourage thoughtful answers—“yes” and “no” questions typically don’t lead to lengthy discussions.  Have some backup questions in mind for times when the discussion lags, and follow the conversation and contribute with questions when it’s appropriate. Be interested and always try to draw out more from your fellow students.

Use the “Enter” key

Some forum posts for online classes will be longer, and some will be shorter. While it’s often better to limit the length of your posts, some questions require lengthy answers. However, if you do need to type a long answer, be sure to break up your post into paragraphs. A large block of text can kill a conversation—it’s visually intimidating and many people will skip reading it. Break up your posts, and it’s easier to read and less likely to discourage response.

Be respectful

It’s important to stay respectful of your fellow students. Avoid disparaging anyone’s response, even subtly; this can severely discourage discussion. Avoid adopting a condescending tone; if you tend to sound this way unintentionally, write your posts in a Microsoft Word document and set them aside for an hour or so, then reread them before sending them out. This will help you look at your writing more clearly. In addition, avoid typing in all-capital letters; in online forum settings, this is equivalent to shouting.

Don’t give away the farm

In an online discussion forum, the point often isn’t to show off your encyclopedic knowledge of the subject—it’s to have an enlightening discussion where everyone participates. If you know a lot about the subject, you may be tempted to write posts that cover the entire spectrum of the topic. This can discourage conversation because you’ve said all there is to say. If you want to keep a discussion going, don’t answer everyone’s questions at once. Instead, post answers that are thorough—but not too thorough. This will give the other participants options for ideas to add to the discussion and ask questions.

Stay on topic

It’s easy for any online class discussion to get off topic, and this includes online forum conversations. Whenever your online forum gets off topic, try to guide it back to the subject at hand. This can be done any number of ways, including humorously and by trying to relate the off-topic discussion to the class subject. If off topic discussions are common, it might be a good idea to suggest establishing a separate discussion forum just for these conversations—so your on-topic forum can stay focused.

Online discussion forums provide you with opportunities to connect with classmates and take a deeper look at classroom topics—and they can also be important for your overall grade. Keeping the discussion healthy is important and beneficial for everyone. You can do this by asking questions that encourage thoughtful discussion; posting well-reasoned responses that leave some room for discussion, and being sure you’ve done all the research you need to before diving into the discussion. In addition, do your part to keep the discussion on topic—and you’re sure to have some good online conversations.

How to Get Along in an Online Forum -



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