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Enabling effective communication with Discussions

objective: Create forums for general course communications and specific class discussions

The Discussions tool is the main communication tool in any online course. Instructors should expect and insist that almost all questions, responses, conversations, etc take place in Discussions. The alternative is huge numbers of individual emails and phone calls and no life outside of class for the instructor (who has to reply to each email one at a time). As a general rule, only personal and private communications should be conducted via email or a phone call.

Note that online class discussions are organized by Forums. Forums contain specific topics of discussion called Topics. Topics contain actual Postings by students or instructors. Postings and all replies to a post form a Thread. Note that only the instructor can create forums and topics but everyone can create postings.

We will create two general types of forums common to almost all online classes: a general forum for class announcements, questions from the class, introductory activities, etc; and a second for student centered discussions on specific class related topics. Typically, classes have a single general forum and multiple student centered discussion forums.

To create a general class forum (includes four common topics)

  1. Click on the Discussions link on the Nav Bar
  2. Click on the New Forum button
  3. In the Title box, enter (or copy and paste): General Class Forum
  4. Click Save & Add Topic (note that Forums without Topics are not readily visible)
  5. Create a Class Announcements topic. This is where the instructor posts course related announcements, e.g., a change in schedule, etc.
    1. Make sure the Forum box displays "General Class Forum." If it does not, change it.
    2. In the Title box, enter: Class Announcements
    3. In the description text box, enter: Students are encouraged to check this discussion area each time they log on to this course website.  Your instructor will use this area to post important announcements throughout the semester.
    4. Click Save And New. You now have a working Forum with a single Topic. We need to add a few more Topics.
  6. Create a Raise Your Hand topic. This is where students ask questions of the instructor
    1. Make sure the Forum box displays "General Class Forum." If it does not, change it.
    2. In the Title box, enter: Raise Your Hand
    3. In the description area, enter: This area gives you the opportunity to RAISE YOUR HAND and ask questions. Post here any questions you have about the readings or assignments. Your questions might be answered by either your instructor or a classmate. Note that all students see all questions and responses, just as they would in a face to face classroom.
    4. Click Save And New
  7.  (optional) Create a Student Introduction topic. This is where students introduce themselves to the instructor and the other students. It is a good first step towards developing a sense of online community.
    1. Make sure the Forum box displays "General Class Forum." If it does not, change it.
    2. In the Title box, enter: Student Introductions
    3. In the description area, enter: Please post a brief introduction of yourself and take a look at the introductions of your fellow students.
    4. Click Save And New
  8.  (optional) Create a Hallway topic for informal, non-course related discussions by and among students.
    1. Make sure the Forum box displays "General Class Forum." If it does not, change it.
    2. In the Title box, enter: The Hallway
    3. In the description area, enter: The HALLWAY is the place for informal discussions that do not relate directly to the class and personal interchanges that do not fit anywhere else. Do not expect a response from the instructor.
    4. Click Save

You now have a General Class Forum with four topics. To see all of this, click on Discussions on the Nav Bar and Forums & Topics List

To add posts (messages)

  1. Click on Discussions.
  2. Click on the link for the Topic to which you want to post.
  3. Click the Compose button.
  4. Add a Subject and Message in the appropriate boxes in the window that appears.
  5. Click Post. That's all you need to do to create a new post.

To reply to an existing post (message)

  1. Click on Discussions.
  2. Click on the link for the desired Topic.
  3. Click on the link for the desired post. This will be under the Subject heading.
  4. Click on the Reply button.
  5. Add your reply. (Note: if you do not want the original content included, select it and delete it.)
  6. Click Post.
  7. Close any extra windows that might remain, e.g., the original post.

Creating a forum and topics for class discussion

The process outlined above - creating a forum and topics, posting and replying - are common to all discussion activities. The steps below describe how to create a new forum and multiple topics for a class discussion. In this scenario we will assume we are creating a forum for Unit I that has three topics we want students to discuss. Students might work on one topic are more than one, depending upon instructions.

  1. Create a forum
    1. Go to discussion >> New Forum
    2. Add whatever text you want in the Title box. Add instructions in the description area (optional).
    3. Click Save & Add Topic
  2. Create the first topic
    1. Add a title and description. Think of the description as specific instructions for your students. Include exactly what you want them to discuss in this topic.
    2. Click Save And New
  3. Repeat for as many topics as you have. In each case, make sure the descriptions clearly indicate student activity.

To add an additional topic

Often it is necessary to add additional topics to an existing forum. To do so, follow the steps below.

  1. Go to discussions >> New Topic
  2. Choose the correct forum
  3. Add a title and description
  4. Click Save or Save And New

To edit the title or description of an existing forum or topic

  1. Go to discussions.
  2. Click on the Edit tool icon at the right of the appropriate forum or topic. the Edit icon looks like a  pencil.
  3. Change what you want changed.
  4. Click Save.

What is not covered in this document

  1. Setting up groups of students
  2. Restricting access to specific topics and forums
  3. Releasing forums and topics based on date and time or other criteria.
  4. Linking discussions to the grade book.
  5. Creating an evaluation rubric.