The Ever Dreaded Discussion Board – Out of the Box Activities and How to Handle the Workload

Photo of woman typing on a computer at a desk.

Published December 17, 2020

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A great conversation on the use (or overuse) of Discussion Boards emerged from CATT’s Design and Build Academy. The questions and concerns raised in class by the faculty ranged from how to effectively use Discussion Boards and over usage of Discussion Boards in online learning, to how to effectively manage Discussion Boards when they become overwhelming and do Discussion Boards really engage students. Below are some resources, tips and tricks to master the online staple, Discussion Boards.

“Discussion Boards can be a place where important learning can happen. We as educators just need to find ways to support students in furthering their learning. ”

Discussion Boards have been a component of online learning for decades. Discussion boards are useful because they make it possible to have asynchronous collaboration in online learning. Students can work on their own time but also see their classmates’ ideas and still be able to work together.

The use of discussion boards can be far more powerful than just using them as introductions or ice breaker activities. Although, those uses are helpful applications in creating a sense of community within your class, with a little creativity and innovative thinking, discussion boards can be taken to a whole new level. Discussion Boards can be a place where important learning can happen. We as educators just need to find ways to support students in furthering their learning.

When Discussion Boards are used to gauge student learning, typically we see discussion boards created where the students’ responses need to be a certain number of words or they need to respond to a certain number of classmates by an established deadline. We also see them used for the ever popular summarize the reading assignments. This does not exactly afford the opportunity for students to adequately think critically. Although the previous examples can be practical applications, we know students are just fulfilling the requirements needed to receive credit. Here are some Discussion Board activities and examples to encourage student engagement and promote the critical thinking necessary for deeper learning.

Out of the box discussion board activities

Virtual field trips

Instructors post various web links for students to visit and explore. Students report findings and reactions back to the discussion board by answering a set of pre-determined questions. Try these:

Adding images of examples

Ask students to post images along with their written responses in the discussion forum. What a great opportunity to discuss image licenses with students. Free online images can be found on:

Case analysis/journal reviews

Learners individually review a case or journal and post a response to the discussion board for group analysis. Resources:

Research panel

Discussion boards can be used as a repository for students to post links and citations related to a specific area of study.

Problem-solving activities

Learners work together to create solutions to problems presented in the discussion forum. Check out:


Students choose a particular viewpoint on a topic. Students post their viewpoint supported by research, wait for a response from a peer with a different viewpoint, and then reply with a rebuttal.


Students are assigned to particular viewpoints of a topic and then do some research to form and support their arguments. Then, after posting to the discussion board, students review the perspectives of their peers and write a reflection based upon information from all roles and reflections.


This strategy is similar to a traditional discussion, but only half of the class participates in the discussion at a time (i.e., inside the fishbowl). The other half observes the ongoing discussion while pausing to reflect on given questions (i.e., outside the fishbowl).

External discussion and reflection

Ask students to have a real-time, 30-minute discussion with someone (via video conference tools) followed by a written reflection.

How to handle discussion board workload

Managing Discussion Boards can become overwhelming, especially if you have large class sizes. As a way to make the discussion boards not too overwhelming you could try:

  • Setting aside specific times to read and respond to the board. I like to create an appointment on my calendar, this helps me to block out specific time to devote to the Discussion Boards.
  • Don’t assume students know how to use Discussion Boards. Create a clear set of instructions and guidelines. A good first assignment could be to have students research netiquette guidelines or have them create their own. I think it’s interesting what the students identify as proper netiquette.
  • Communicating your availability with students. For example, I read and respond to posts five out of seven days a week, usually taking off Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Being specific about the quality and level of posts you expect. Provide exemplars for your students.


Online Discussion Boards have become a staple of online learning. Discussion Boards can be a great opportunity for collaboration in our online learning world. Why not have some fun with them and think outside the box. With a little creativity and innovative thinking, discussion boards can be taken to a whole new level. What a great opportunity to switch things up, get creative, innovate and have some pedagogical fun.

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