Faculty Development & Learning Assessment

Using Threaded Discussions to Build Community in a Course

--02/23/2009

Lang (2008) argues that building community can be difficult if the only opportunity for interaction occurs during regularly-scheduled class time. In contrast, threaded discussion in the online environment provides access to asynchronous discussion 24/7.

However, this technology will only be effective for community building if students are engaged in the discussions. If participation is optional, students won’t participate.

One way to quickly create an engaging and relevant threaded discussion is to require that students post a 2-paragraph response to the reading for a given week and respond to at least one classmate who has not yet received a reply. Be sure the deadlines for posts and replies are staggered to facilitate exchanges before the class meets on the assigned topic.

If the discussions and student postings are not used during regular class meetings and discussions, students will perceive threaded discussions as “make work.” Skim the postings before class to identify specific topics or questions common to many students. At the beginning of class, briefly discuss common comments and address any important misconceptions or questions included in the posts so students can see how their input enriches the class.



Adapted from: Lang, J. M. (2008). On course: A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.