Discussion forums can be used in a variety of beneficial ways to stimulate thinking and participation among students. The current remote learning environment has highlighted the use of online discussions as an important feature that can be explored in Canvas and UTSOnline, both of which have inbuilt features that allow this to be used effectively. 

Before you can construct a useful discussion, you need to know its purpose. For example, discussions can be used for anything from improved comprehension and knowledge construction, to building an argument or position and providing feedback for the course. Including a strong question as a prompt can be paramount to the successful outcome of the discussion forum.

Understanding the impact of instructor engagement in online discussion forums can also lead to more productive outcomes. Instructor presence should be felt but shouldn’t dominate the flow of communications and conversations. Setting clear expectations and providing a clear end-point – which could be in the form of summation by the instructor or by a student on a rotated basis – can also lead to significant potential learning benefits. Discussions could also include multimodal contributions such as videos, audios and images. 

Here are some ways your UTS colleagues have used discussion forums to create engaging online discussions and increased group/student participation. 

1. Build an argument or position

Dr Soojin Kim (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) uses stimulus and a strong prompt to encourage students to engage constructively in building an argument and defending points of argument using materials from the course and other sources. This discussion forum gives an opportunity to hear the opinions of other persons by looking at real world examples that can be related to course content.

2. Encourage collaborative learning & problem-solving

Anne Arthur (Faculty of Law) enhances student engagement through using discussions forums for collaborative problem-solving. The concept of collaborative problem-solving enables students to learn from each other, share knowledge and experience, and support each other. Research has shown that collaborative problem-solving encourages finding creative solutions. This is a marked discussion which further encourages students to participate. 

the students had a few problems getting the hang of how to collaborate on them in the first week, although I thought I had posted reasonable instructions on how to do so.  I have posted further explanatory announcements and have joined in the group discussions to post the requirements, and so far the week 10 collaborations are going well.

Anne Arthur

3. Developing reflection & critical thinking

Dr Amara Atif (Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology) uses discussion forums as part of a marked assessment. Through discussion forums, students develop critical thinking and reflection skills to communicate understanding and seek inquiry on given topics on a weekly basis. This assessment task, worth 10% of the final grade, is intended to allow students to critically engage with the material covered in this subject throughout the session. Each group is provided with instructions in their group homepage and students start the activity through pre-reading and collaborative discussions in online classes in Zoom breakout rooms, where they formulate their responses to the designed questions. Students are to back up their contributions to the forums with relevant references and links. 

Similarly, Dr Babak Abedin (Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology) includes 10% of total marks for assessments for participation in weekly activities. Each week, one or two case studies with questions for discussions are posted; students participate in answering the questions and comment on each other’s work.  As subject coordinator, Dr Babak and the subject lecturer (Dr Walayat Hussain) moderate the discussions and monitor this for providing feedback and the required assessment grading.  As mentioned before, graded discussion forums increases the incentive for students to participate in the discussions. 

Activity: Shared Learning

Our new Shared Learning activity is designed to engage students in reading activities and enhance their ownership of learning activities through the use of the discussion feature in your Canvas site.

To get more ideas on how to effectively use discussion forums, read our tips for creating engaging discussions.

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