This semester, my department will implement a discussion board in our advanced integrated-skills reading/writing courses. Discussion boards present a tool I’ve known about for years, but never explored.

My reluctance to implement discussion boards/blogs in the past stems from the problem of overcoming student apathy, without generating a glut of additional grading. Instruments that reduce the amount of grading reduce incentives for meaningful engagement, and vice versa.

Nonetheless, after some Internet sleuthing, I found Mark Sample’s blog @SampleReality, which I discovered via the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching post on blogs in higher education. Mark utilizes a three-prong method to engender meaningful student engagement on his class blogs:

1. Explicit Parameters

Here are the requirements Mark gives his students:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 500-word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, post your response by midnight the evening before class.

Pedagogy and the Class Blog

2. A Rubric

Pedagogy and the Class Blog

3. A Self-Assessment (Audit)

Mark requires students to post a self-assessment at midterm, in which students reflect on the content and engagement of their own posts. The idea is to compel students to reflect on the substance of their engagement. Again, here are the directions from Mark’s blog:

Begin by printing and reading all of your posts and comments

Compose a short analysis and reflection of your posts. This meta-post is open-ended and the exact content is up to you, although it should be thoughtful and directed …

Pedagogy and the Class Blog

I recommend those interested to click through to his post and read it in its entirety.

More to consider

1. Early week posts provide more opportunities for interaction …

… require students to make an initial post by Wednesday, allowing a few days for discussion to percolate.

Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss.

I like the idea of Wednesday for three reasons: 1) A Monday deadline will elicit rushed responses. 2) Friday posts will be information dumps–forgotten by Monday. 3) By Wednesday, students have achieved a productive stride.

2. Discussion boards present unique opportunities for the higher education language classroom …

I haven’t addressed the opportunities discussion boards present for giving students corrective feedback on their writing. However, for the English-focused higher education classroom, discussion boards present a number of language-focused possibilities.

The one that pops out to me is discussion boards as a vehicle for dynamic written corrective feedback (DWCF). Students could even write their entries in class with a timer.

In closing …

I’ll end this post with some additional advice on how to successfully incorporate class blogs/discussion boards into a higher education classroom from Prof. Hacker at The Chronicle for Higher Education:

Talk to students about what they think makes for a good blog post, …

Provide feedback early on about their blogs, …

Highlight particularly good blogs in class and/or on the class blog, …

‘How are you going to grade this?’: Evaluating Classroom Blogs

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