Discussion Forums

"A free exchange of ideas, opinions, and feelings is the lifeblood
of collaborative learning." - J. McKinle


Discussion Question Sample 1

Should companies promote health economic information to USA employers?
Background & Instructions: In the USA a large portion of health insurance premiums for individuals under the age of 65 is paid for by employers. In an effort to manage premium increases, employers have formed healthcare employer coalitions and have implemented Health Enhancement, disease screening and similar programs. Should pharmaceutical companies allocate phase IV funding to support research and/or promotional activities with employers? Team A should argue that employers are an important customer segment for whom limited research and promotional spending budgets should be allocated. Team B should argue that limited research and promotional spend budgets should be allocated only to support activities directed toward patients, academic medical centers and managed markets customers. Please support your posting with examples of successful or unsuccessful collaborations between employers and pharmaceutical companies or with examples of work productivity messages.

Discussion forums can serve as a learning tool that fosters in-depth, academic discussion, an arena in which students work collaboratively or conduct peer analysis, or simply a place where they can virtually communicate with each other. Discussion forums used well can be an effective learning tool that encourages students to engage in higher order thinking activities.

Creating good questions is one of the most important factors in designing successful discussion forums. The following are some question possibilities.

  • The open-ended question: Ask for the how’s and the why’s instead of the what’s.
  • The controversial question: That the unpopular stand and get your students riled up.
  • The “naiveté” question: Ask the “dumb” question to get your students talking.
  • The “synthesizer” question: Draw from related reading materials, asking your students to determine what “person A” would have to say about “Person B” because of “C”.
  • The peer facilitator question: Have the students sign up for a facilitation week and give each student responsibility for addressing a major point/topical question, soliciting input from their peers, and posting a summary of the discussion at the end of the week.

Another important factor is keeping the discussions on topic. The following suggestions can assist in accomplishing this goal.

  1. Creating well-designed questions that keep students topic focused (see question possibilities noted above.)
  2. Provide a new discussion forum for each week or topic. If one forum is used for the entire term the threads may get rather long and provide parameters or guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable response (rubrics work very well – samples can be found in Appendix A).
  3. Revise threaded discussion questions when responses are off-target. If a question is not working well and students are confused, change it immediately and send out an email to students regarding the change o post a new thread with the revised question and associated questions.
  4. Bring a tread to closure by summarizing the issues presented and resolved in the discussion; pinpoint especially interesting and informative responses by your students. This summary can be emailed to the students, posted to the end of the threaded discussion, or posted in the weekly announcements of the course site.
  5. Give clear detailed directions to your students on what you want in their responses at the beginning of each thread.

  6. Discussion Question Sample 2

    Events that occur at one point in time are likely to influence theories that are developed sometime thereafter. For example, the theory Gagne` first put forth in the 1960s was most likely influenced by his work designing military training during the 1940s. Think about present-day events and how they may shape future views of learning and instruction. On the basis of your ideas, describe an instructional theory that may appear in the next twenty years and discuss the events today that are likely to shape that theory.

  7. Provide an informal threaded discussion elsewhere in the course. This can be a good place for students to post non-content related questions or to socialize online.
  8. When appropriate post reminders that students stay on topic. If students begin to stray from the topic, post an item to the discussion pushing everyone back in the right direction. If the direction the students have strayed is a good one, reinforce it and allow the discussion to focus on the new topic.
  9. Provide incentives for students to participate in the online discussions by attributing a discernable percentage of the grade to this activity (can be tied to the rubric noted in item 2.)
  10. Privately reprimand and give constructive feedback to students who make off-topic postings or fail to meet posting requirements.
  11. Delete/hide threaded discussion postings by those students who refuse to play by the rules and then deny them access to the threads and lower their class participation grade.

Sample Activities

Student Centered

  • Have students synthesize the prior week’s discussion postings
  • Have students generate discussion or review questions, Students can submit questions to you via email or moderated discussion forum. Select a few of the questions and post them to an open discussion forum. You could even have the students who submitted the question be the moderator for the question.
  • Assign a group to be the experts on a topic or section. Have them post a question for that week’s discussion and lead the discussion. Toward the end of the posting period, have the discussion leaders summarize and combine points for their peers.
  • Have a student start the discussion on a topic or chapter.
  • Have the student read an article that offers multiple perspectives on a course-relate topic. They then write a brief synopsis of the article to explain a perspective they support and why. This summary is posted to the discussion forum. Students then read the posting of at least two other students and respond in a collegial manner, with additional evidence from the article that supports or challenges the other students’ interpretations. If a student receives a challenge to a summary they should be able to defend their position, or concede their position. (Gaarrison, 2008) It is recommended that a clearly defined assessment rubric be used to grade this type of discussion.

Promoting Interaction

    • Have students take sides on an issue and defend their position. Poll students in class or online on a particular question or issue. Then have students support their positions in the discussion forum.
    • Post a number of questions relating to a chapter or unit of study. Have students work in small groups on these questions. Each group will then post their final responses to the discussion forum.
    • Post a sample exam and have student collaborate on answering the questions.

Supporting Student Learning

    • Post a weekly discussion question related to course readings prior to a class session. Use the comments from the online discussion to generate class discussion.
    • Provide a discussion forum for readings and assignments. Encourage students to post their questions “x” number of days before the next session. Use the student postings to develop lecture materials and resources.
    • Post preview or review questions or concepts in a discussion forum. Have students submit a response in their own words. This allows you to assess the students level of understanding.
    • Have students create reflective discussion summaries or “discussion audits” by posing one or more of the following questions: (Brookfield & Preskill, 2005)
      • What are the two most important ideas that emerged from this week’s discussion?
      • What remains unresolved or contentious about this topic?
      • What do you understand better as a result of this week’s discussion?
      • What key words or concept best captures our discussion this week?
      • What are some resources (e.g., websites, articles, books) that could be used to find further information/ideas about this topic?
    • For individual assignments, have students review postings from the discussion forum and outline the points and themes that were discussed. Select a few good examples and post these for the class.
    • Post a model answer to the discussion as a conclusion to your discussion thread.