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Your School's Online Discussion Boards: What You Need to Know

Dec 30, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Your participation in online discussions is often a big part of your grade in online and hybrid classes. Students will be expected to maintain a lively and insightful discussion on course content through the school’s discussion board, and everyone is graded on their contribution.  While grading a discussion often makes the whole conversation seem contrived, the participation component isn’t likely to change soon—especially for online classes where they are often the only way students get to interact with their peers.

If you want to succeed in the online discussion boards, here are a few things to keep in mind.

How Participation Grades are Determined

Every professor and class is different, and these guidelines won’t apply to every situation. But most participation grades are determined in the following ways.

By length

Some online classes will state a length requirement: you must post at least two 200-word comments on the class discussion boards every week, for example. Instructors will check the amount of posting you do and determine whether you’ve followed the requirements, and this will determine part of your grade.  Posting multiple shorter comments instead of a few long ones generally won’t be sufficient for a good grade, although each teacher’s expectations are different.


Blackboard is one of the online discussion boards used by colleges today.

Blackboard is one of the most popular online discussion boards used by colleges today. This is an example of what you might see when you login to your account.



By content

Some instructors will read your posts and determine whether you’re really engaged in the subject matter, considering the discussions and posting a valuable contribution when considering your grade.  It’s important to think of the post as more of a mini-paper than a simple contribution to a discussion.

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By citation

You may be expected to cite sources in your discussion, and even if your teacher doesn’t spell this out, it can help your grade to refer to the experts in the points you bring up.  It will show that you’re engaged and knowledgeable about the literature and prevailing opinions in the area.

By self-evaluation

Some instructors will tell you that it doesn’t matter what you say in your posts as long as you post a certain number and length.  But be careful—at the end of the class, you may be asked to put together a portfolio of discussion postings and include an explanation of the grade you feel you deserve for your contributions. To justify a good grade, you’ll have to be sure your post content stands up to scrutiny.

General Tips for Success

Don’t waste your posts

Teachers look for students who add valuable comments to advance the discussion. Avoid posting many one-line posts like “I agree!” or disagreeing without explaining why. Instructors may see these as “fluff” posts meant to make it look like you’re participating, without giving much thought to your discussion.

Write effective subject lines

Keep your subject lines specific so people will know what you’re saying before they click on your response.  This makes your post easier for students to find in searches.

Keep the tone civil

Because of the impersonal nature of discussion board communication, many people feel more empowered to make bold statements—and sometimes this can lead to cyber-bullying.  This will never get you anywhere in terms of your grade.  Always keep discussion tones civil and disagreements impersonal.  Avoid typing in all capital letters—this is seen as “shouting” and it’s an online breach in etiquette.

Technical Tips

Most online schools use a discussion board program called BlackBoard.  If yours doesn’t, chances are it will still use a program that has the following features common to all forums.  Here are a few usage tips to keep in mind.

Subscribe to threads

Most discussion board forums allow you to “subscribe”—meaning you’ll be notified via email whenever a reply is posted on a thread you’re watching.  This allows you to keep up with the discussion and make relevant posting easier.

Write in “Draft” first

Most forums have a “draft” feature allowing you to write responses and then save them to go over later before publishing them. This is advisable; it’s often impossible to spot errors and inappropriate tone directly after you’ve written something.

Use the Search tool

You’ll be expected to know what topics have already been covered and what other people have said about your topic in discussion when you post.  If necessary, use the search tool to find other posts on your topic so you can make sure someone else hasn’t already made the point you were planning to make.

Your discussion board posts can have a significant impact on your grade. Follow these tips, and you should be set to receive high marks for online participation.



Judymann79 Over a year ago

I am online and the teacher removed my name from the discussion

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