By Thelmadatter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Discussion boards are a prominent feature of most online courses. In fact, I’m teaching a Literature & Composition course now, and it that requires students to post to 11 different discussion forums over an 8-week period! Although most classes don’t demand *such* an extreme level of involvement in discussion forums, the majority of online courses do require weekly or biweekly participation.

Why?

Online education has a number of advantages; it’s convenient, it’s flexible, and it’s affordable. Thanks to developments in online learning, more people are pursuing their education and advancing their careers! However, the virtual classroom can be a very lonely place. Discussion forums offer students and instructors an opportunity to come together, exchange ideas, and learn from one another.

So, it’s important to devote plenty of time and energy to your posts. Here are some things you can do to get the most of each discussion experience:

Post early

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” Well, the early poster gets the most substantial responses. Grab the attention of your instructor and your peers by posting well before the deadline.

Reference the course readings

The discussion board is a place for you to demonstrate your knowledge of the learning materials. Use the course readings to respond to the questions in the prompt. Most courses require you to write research papers and use scholarly sources to support your arguments about a particular topic; use your discussion responses to practice effective source integration. Be sure you use proper citations throughout your posts!

Read all the responses to your thread

If you were in a traditional classroom and one of your peers responded to your comment, you wouldn’t ignore him or her. You’d agree. You’d disagree. You’d ask a thoughtful follow-up question, or you would offer additional insight. In other words, you would look for ways to extend the conversation. Do the same thing in the virtual classroom. Build upon your peers’ responses to your work!

Respond to questions posed by the instructor

If a student hasn’t *quite* fulfilled all the requirements of the discussion assignment, I’ll ask a few follow-up questions. Many of my colleagues do the same thing. If you want to get full credit for your discussion board posts, be sure you respond to your instructors’ questions. You’ll learn more, and you’ll get a better grade.

Ask questions

As I mentioned before, you always want to look for ways to extend the conversation. You can do that by asking your peers probing questions, questions that will generate a constructive dialogue. You can also use your discussion posts to gain some clarity on the course concepts. If you’re struggling with an idea, ask your instructor about in your initial response!

Discuss your personal experience

You bring a lifetime of personal and professional experiences to the table. Use them! Find ways to connect your background knowledge and experiences to the course content in your discussion responses.

Remember, the discussion forums are where most of the teaching and learning happens in an online course. If you use the strategies discussed above, you’ll improve your grades, and you’ll get a lot more from your online learning experience. That’s what I can a win-win situation!