To Post, or Not to Post: Instructor Presence in Online Discussion Forums

Sometimes it is difficult to know when and how to jump in to student online discussion forums.  You want students to feel your presence by being active in the forums, but you don’t want to stifle the conversation. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Create a list of expectations for student posts. Include a resource that includes guidelines for student participation/etiquette in discussion forums so that students have some specific parameters to follow.
  • Create unique questions that are beyond just factual information. The questions that you post to students need to be well-designed to encourage critical thinking and participation.  Think about asking opinion-based, reflective, and/or probing questions that invite the student’s elaboration.
  • Create discussion post grade to include replies. Require each student to reply to at least one other students’ post as part of the assignment; this will ensure the student-to-student interaction you are looking for, as well as expose each student to others’ viewpoints/thoughts.
  • Model what good participation looks like by posting regularly. Student participation in forums is influenced by the instructor’s frequency, timing, and nature of postings (Mazzolini & Maddison, 2008).
  • Think about ways that you can stimulate different ways of thinking by expanding the discussion topic or facilitating discourse. The instructor that facilitates productive discourse is supportive of a community of inquiry (Overbaugh & Nickel, 2011). This includes prompting, encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing, to name a few.
  • Summarize (and point out any misconceptions) the class discussion in a weekly re-cap email or course announcement. Again, showing your presence in the class and in the discussion forum.
  • Support community-building that is happening in the course. Create a separate discussion forum for non-course related questions/discussions so students can have a space for talking about topics/issues outside of the course, i.e.: What time is the football game on Friday night? Do you know of any apartments for rent?

Mazzolini, Margaret, and Sarah Maddison. “When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums.” Computers & Education 49.2 (2007) : 193-213. Web. 7 Dec 2008.

Overbaugh, R., & Nickel, C. (2011). A comparison of student satisfaction and value of academic community between blended and online sections of a university-level educational foundations course. Internet and Higher Education, 14, 164-174.


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