Volume 1, Issue 5

Winter 2009

  From a Distance...

Online Newsletter for Arkansas Distance Learning



Discussion Boards:  From Student's Perspective
By Regina Moore

Let me be clear on one thing: I do not like discussion boards. But as a student who has taken over eighty hours of online courses, I know they are a necessary evil. Although online ultimately means self-motivated and sometimes self-taught, it’s nice to know there really is an instructor at the head of the class taking part, directing, and contributing to the course.

Most online classes have the introductory discussion board. There’s always the student that tells his life story (i.e., gives too much information) and then there’s the student that’s so elusive she won’t even tell her name if it isn’t required (i.e., me). However, as I’ve made my way through classes and reached senior level, I have had many classes with the same students. It is always nice to “see a familiar face” and we often post personal messages to one another in the introductory posts. Over time I’ve found that, all-in-all, introductory discussion boards are not so bad. Unfortunately, the real nitty-gritty work follows.

Through my many hours of online courses, I have witnessed an array of instructor involvement. Some instructors post questions then I never hear from them again. I don’t know if they are reading the posts; I don’t know if they care what I post; I don’t know if the posts are really even graded. In these instances, the discussion boards seem to exist simply for filler. Then there are the instructors that make the discussion boards come alive. They interact with students as if in conversation with each student. The latter direct the classes I have enjoyed the most.

Although posting frequently gets tiresome for students, and I imagine instructor as well, students get to know their instructor by his/her replies. The most exciting course I have ever taken was one where the instructor took the time to reply to each individual’s post. When I say “reply,” I do not mean just a simple “good job” or “good point.” This instructor wrote paragraphs expanding our learning of the subject and illustrating his abilities and knowledge. He asked questions that required us to research and dig deeper in thought. I learned more from his sharing of knowledge—not just notes at the end of the discussion deadline—than I have ever learned from any other instructor. Each of the 20 students in the course commented on how we anxiously awaited his reply. Although his replies were not immediate, what he wrote back was positive, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. These replies felt like feedback I would have received if I had been sitting in a lecture classroom and were probably more than I have ever received online or in class.

I know that usually most instructors do not have time for this kind of interaction and commitment to each student, yet even just a few lengthy comments are helpful and demonstrate that the instructor knows his stuff, that he is approachable, available, and actively a part of the learning environment. Below of the most helpful tips for discussion boards include the following:

  • Discussion boards requiring students to answer more than one question per week over several topics are very useful.

  • Instructors that clearly post what they expect from the student receive the best posts. They should identify in the syllabus or in an announcement what length each post should be, how many paragraphs are expected, what specifically the post should contain, how many times a week the student should post, and whether or not each student must post to every question.

  • Instructors should explain how many points are possible for each discussion as well as make a distinction between points given for excellent posts, good posts, and poor posts.

If discussion boards are required and include guidance from the instructor, students are motivated to take part in them which in turn builds a community within the classroom.

About the Author


Karen Powers LiebahberA native of the Ozark Mountains, Regina currently resides on a cattle farm in Northeast Arkansas with her husband. She has four children ages 22, 20, 19, and 13 and one grandchild, 6 months. Previously she worked for 19 years as Chief Deputy Tax Assessor and has worked the last 6 years at Black River Technical College as Administrative Secretary.  She recently accepted the position as the Distance Education Program Coordinator. She received a B.A. from University of Arkansas at Little in December 2009 and has been accepted into the Master’s program at Arkansas Tech University.

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