How to be a Discussion Board Rock Star

(in the online learning environment)

Maybe rock star status is overselling it, but you can very well have a stellar performance in the discussion board. Regardless of how often your school suggests that you be present in the discussion board throughout the week, being there isn't enough. Even if you have full control over your course, the fact remains that showing up is only the first step.


I always tell students to think of the discussion board as being synonymous with the classroom discussion that occurs in face-to-face courses. It is their time to shine. They can speak up to voice their opinions, address peers, and ask us questions. 

The Importance of Ice Breaker Posts

I firmly believe that the first week's discussion board performance can set the tone for the rest of the course. Why? It is your chance to make a good first impression-where you can achieve rock star status. If your course has an Ice Breaker, or an introductory topic where students get to introduce themselves, take full advantage of the opportunity.  Get to know your students on a more personal level.

This is why I believe it is important to respond to every student's Ice Breaker post. Is it time consuming? You bet! Still, students often share details about their lives, experiences, likes, and goals. You can use this information as a great conversation starter or to help them with their writing interests. Have you ever been in a situation where you struggled to help a student understand a concept? Try using an example relevant to their interests.

Why else is the Ice Breaker important? If you respond to every student, you ensure that you have publicly communicated to everyone at least one time in the course. Let's face it. Some students may fear online courses, and some may come with a hatred of all things (Insert your discipline here). For me, I am all too familiar with students hating English. I use the Ice Breaker as an opportunity to figure out the source of their hatred and if there’s something I can do about it. Your engagement in the Ice Breaker may be comforting and encourage them to have open minds. 


An Easy 4-Step Approach

So, there are four easy ways to be a Discussion Board Rock Star:

1. Be present. We all have lives full of obligations. Still, we don't want to make our students feel as though they are not a priority. If you're going to make minimal posts during part of the week due to time constraints, you need to have some days where your contributions are mind-blowing. Show students that you are not only there, but that you are bringing your A-game. Reinforce concepts from the text. Offer real-world examples. You can even offer some insight based on your years of experience.

2. Be a facilitator. Help students to connect with each other. If you see a few students with similar interests or concerns, tell them: "Hi Susan. Emily posted on a similar issue that I think you may find interesting. You may want to check out her post if you haven't already." This gets students talking to each other in addition to talking to you.  

Asking open-ended questions to further a discussion can also increase students' engagement, especially if you see a thread is going dry.

3. Be an example. If you have certain expectations for the discussion board or you see that students aren't quite hitting the rubric's target areas, offer an example. This is especially important if you have a pet peeve about how posts are opened and closed.   

4. Be supportive. Some find it difficult to share their work or ideas with others. An encouraging word can go a long way. 

Let the discussion board be your stage.



Ashley Franklin, M.A.