Discussion Forum Best Practices

Discussion Forums play a key role in online learning. When used effectively, they can provide many learning benefits that do not always occur in the face-to-face environment, including: enhanced critical thinking, more thoughtful and reflective participation, a stronger class community, a greater likelihood of citing research, and a greater sense of race- and gender-based equality (Worcester, 2008).

How to Get Started

How to Create an Effective Discussion Forum Prompt

When planning the course, reflect on the learning objectives and consider what is most important for students to gain from each unit of the course. Different question types will evoke different ways of thinking.

  • Questions that elicit convergent thinking tend to begin with “Why,” “How,” and “In what ways” (University)
    • Why do Shakespeare’s works have such universal appeal?
  • Questions that elicit divergent thinking tend to begin with “Imagine,” “Predict,” or “How might” (University)
    • How might Richard III react to the gender roles of 21st century America?
  • Questions that elicit divergent thinking tend to begin with “Defend,” “Judge,” “What do you think about” (University)
    • Defend the college dining hall’s decision to stop offering soft drinks.

Best Practices

There are three key phases involved in Discussion Forum best practices. These include Design and Development, Setting up Expectations, and Launch and Management (Goldman, 2011).

Design and development

  • Balance the overall weekly course load; for example, heavier weekly loads might have fewer discussion threads
  • Ensure that discussion forums clearly connect to course objectives and flow with the course structure (University)
  • Include online discussion forum participation in the course grade (University)
    • The percentage depends on how much you plan to use the Discussion Forum, but research suggests between 20-40% (Goldman, 2011)
  • Model the responses you would like to see (University)
  • Don’t be an overly active facilitator; research shows that this can hinder student participation (University)

Setting up Expectations

  • Establish netiquette guidelines, along with a general Discussion Forum rubric, in the “Getting Started” module
  • Clarify the style you prefer for citations–will you accept relaxed APA style or prefer it precisely formatted? (Goldman, 2011)
  • Attach specific deadlines for initial posts and follow-up comments so students are moving along at the same pace (Goldman, 2011; University)
  • Inform students of communication expectations; if you will not be checking email on weekends, for example, make this clear in the syllabus

Launch and Management

  • During the first week, focus on establishing community; do this by creating engaging icebreakers and/or having students complete their Moodle profile (essentially a brief autobiography) and comment on peers’ profiles (Goldman, 2011; University)
  • Acknowledge students with notable contributions and interrupt or stop unprofessional online behaviors (Goldman, 2011)
  • Send a summary of the previous week’s discussions in the weekly announcement
  • Leverage students’ postings to:
    • confirm/rephrase views
    • request references/proofs
    • extend/direct the topic
    • stop digression/misunderstandings
    • prevent off­-topic ranting
    • ask for relevant experiences
    • motivate to think deeper, harder and differently (Goldman, 2011)


  • Case Analysis
    • Students work independently on a common case followed by group analysis in the forum (University)
      • After reading about the role of the school board, and considering the poor performance of several districts within the United States as outlined in Case 2, explain why school boards should or should not have a role in school districts. What does your group consider as a viable solution(s) to districts’ poor performance? (Morrison, 2014)
  • Collaborative Writing
    • Workgroups work together to create a single document – proposals and analytical reports work well – which they then post to the larger group for critique (University)
      • Discuss your thoughts on the current national preoccupation with reality TV shows. In what ways are they used to represent or reinforce gender, racial, or economic stereotypes? (University Writing)
  • Cooperative Debate
    • Workgroups present perspectives on a particular issue, followed by a whole-group consensus-building discussion (University)
      • If you were an administrator at NCSU, what measures would you take— outside of a formal list of speech codes—that would foster a university atmosphere receptive and welcoming of difference? Your first response should outline the measures you would take in fulfilling this task. Your second response should evaluate the pros and cons of the measures proposed by another student in the class (McMurry)
  • Research Bank
    • Students and instructor contribute links and citations to a common area for a class-wide research topic (University)
      • Use 5-10 sentences to explain one reason why fast food should not be banned on college campuses. You may not repeat the same response as another student in the class. The purpose of this question is twofold: to fully explore the rationale behind this particular side of the nutrition debate and to generate content that will be useful to us when we write a draft our paper on this topic next week (McMurry)