Loyola University Chicago

Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy

Discussion Forums

A discussion forum is a tool that promotes ongoing asynchronous communication in a course. Members of the class are able to initiate a conversation by starting a discussion thread; other members can then respond to the original message or to the responses that are given by other classmates.

Discussion forums can also be used as assessment tools. For example, the instructor can create a forum giving students a question to which they are required to respond. Along with posting their own response, students are also required to provide feedback on the response of at least one of their peers.

Pros & Cons

Allows conversation about a topic to continue without time restrictions. Can be difficult to moderate a discussion so that the conversation is ongoing and meaningful. Students often feel it's acceptable to give short responses or duplicate the responses of others.
More democratic than traditional in-class conversations as it gives all students an opportunity to contribute a response. Crafting good discussion questions that allow for adequate input from all students can be difficult.
Promotes more meaningful conversation by giving students the chance to process others' responses and carefully craft their own contribution to a conversation. Moderating discussion forum conversations can be extremely time consuming for instructors.
Students who don't feel comfortable speaking up in front of class can respond in a written format.  

Best Practices

  • Make your expectations regarding student participation in an online discussion explicit at the start of the course. This can include:
    • giving a requirement for how many times or how frequently you want students to post to the discussion board;
    • stating how long or short posts should be;
    • providing an example of a response that demonstrates the desired quality of content.
  • Create discussion topics that provide ample opportunity for various students to respond with their personal reflections and insight.
  • Develop—and make students aware of—your strategy for responding to student posts that:
    • keeps the conversation student-centered
    • promotes continued exploration of the topic at hand
    • is manageable from a time perspective
    • makes students aware of your presence
    • allows you to step in to correct misconceptions where appropriate
  • For longer ongoing conversations, provide a summary of the important ideas that are presented throughout the conversation to allow for easy synthesizing and review of the concepts covered.
  • Be prepared to moderate but not dominate the conversation.