How to Perform Well in Online Discussion Boards: 5 Tips

Online students face many challenges, but discussion boards should not be one of them. Find expert tips from a college professor who teaches online classes. 

I teach a multitude of online courses for three different universities -- and the one consistent element across all three is the use of discussion boards. The pedagogical purpose of these discussion boards is to simulate in-class discussions -- but to also, ideally, take the discussions to a higher level where students do not need to think on their feet, and can take the time to post a thoughtful initial post or reply to a classmate. 

So... assuming you are taking one or more online classes, what are the best tips from this professor on how to perform your best and earn those grades you seek? 

Five Steps (Tips) to Success with Online Discussions

 1. Read and review the discussion requirements and grading rubric. The key is understanding what your professor expects from you. I am surprised at how few students read the requirements (usually dealing with length, sources, timing). The grading rubric is there for both the professor and the student... so understand exactly how your professor will be grading your work. 

2. Keep track and meet all deadlines -- for the initial post and for your replies to classmates. Many of you can easily lose track of deadlines, especially if you are taking multiple classes and/or are working (and/or have family obligations) in addition to attending college. The easiest solution is setting up a weekly reminder for when the initial posts are due and when the replies are due. 

3. Read and review the discussion prompt. While some professors might be okay with you going on a tangent from the discussion prompt, most of us prefer that you don't, and instead spend more time and energy developing a strong and thorough initial post that relates directly to the prompt. We want you to write an initial post that clearly addresses the issue/question in the prompt. 

4. Write a thoughtful initial post, meeting all the discussion requirements. Remember formatting and good writing practices, and always edit and proofread your work. Cite and list references to support your thoughts and opinions. The post should be substantive and insightful -- and laser-focused on the discussion prompt. 

5. Complete the required number of replies to classmates, meeting all the requirements. As with your initial post, compose a substantive reply, citing sources. (We professors are dismayed when students reply with something terse, like, "Great post. Thanks." Substantive means you dig deeply into a classmate's post and ADD to the discussion with new insights or arguments. Again, remember to edit and proofread before submitting. 

Final Thoughts on Discussion Board Success

Online learning can be an extremely rewarding and useful experience, assuming you go into it with the right mindset -- and a strong plan on how you will perform at your highest level.

This article is all about online discussions, but there are plenty of other articles on this site that can assist you in various areas of your academic work. 

Finally, the one other piece of advice I can provide is this: when in doubt, when you have questions or concerns, reach out to your professor -- sooner rather than later. We want all our students to succeed, to learn, to grow... and we will do our best to help direct you to the resources or tools you need. For online professors, we are just an email or text away... go for it. 

See also my video on this subject. 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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