Overcome Discussion Board Paralysis!

One of the barriers to posting early in the week that I have heard from students repeatedly over the years is their fear that their discussions may be off-target or not as cogent as the posts they see from others. I find the same concerns voiced by seasoned students and those who are new to the online environment.  Having suffered from the same in many of my online courses when I was in school, I have compiled a list of tips that I found helped me, as well as my students over the years:

  • Keep very focused on the reason for posting.  Learning from each other and creating a more interactive feel to overcome the cyberspace void are important, but the reality is that posting early and frequently is a requirement as documented by the discussion board rubric.  Having a grounded focus as to why you must post allows you to recognize what you need to do to succeed. Having one ‘brilliant’ essay that takes eight hours on the last day is not going to get you nearly as far as having a few posts that show you are interested, thinking critically, have read the material and can support your points.  You are often not graded on right or wrong answers, per se; you are graded on whether you are reflecting on the material and thinking over the questions before reaching a conclusion.
  • Although ultimately dialogue with your classmates is an excellent learning tool and a rubric requirement, it may help if you envision your post as if it were a private discussion between you and the professor. Picture yourself sitting around after class and chatting about what was covered in lecture.  You are not graded by comparison to the rest of the class—you are only graded on your own reflections and efforts.
  •  If you are unsure what to say, ask a question that explains your source of confusion or disagreement with something.  Asking a thoughtful question is often the best way to articulate your point. Similarly, if you found something interesting, state it but don’t worry if it does not quite sound right.  Sometimes, in conversation, we are not as articulate as we would like because we are caught up in our thoughts—that is the same thing here.  It’s OK!  If we are unsure what you mean, we will ask.   We are not judging your conversational skills—we are listening for your thoughts, to make sure you are reading the material and that you are willing to ponder and justify your answers rather than simply stating an opinion.
  • You are graded on your willingness to respond to your classmates (not all of them, but a few each week) and be engaged in what they are trying to convey.  If you are not clear about what they mean, ask them.  If you like what they said, tell them and say why.  You do not have to go into lengthy discussion.  Just show interest.
  • Write your responses to the weeks’ questions in Word BEFORE you post it.  Some people like to answer the question before reading others’ posts.  Some like to read the posts first. Do both and find which method works best for you.  In either case, give yourself a reasonable time limit and just jot down your thoughts.  Once you have done that, put it aside and then review before posting.   If you feel you have answered the question (regardless of what others wrote or if you duplicate their thoughts), cut and paste it on the Board.
  • Follow the discussions by reading your classmates’ responses to each other, as well as their responses to your posts. If you feel that you have changed your mind, or that something is clearer to you, write another post saying that you changed your mind and explain why.  Read the instructor’s posts and responses. Often there might be something that resonates with you or provides an important insight that you should consider.
  • Realize that nobody is judging you, but you. Seriously.  You have nothing to prove—you are already on the team because you have made the decision to continue your education!  Have fun and really enjoy the learning.  We all make mistakes with our posts, but the biggest one is not to post at all.

Charis Nick-Torok is a New York State Attorney with a primary interest in public health law, disabilities and mental health, and animal law & ethics. In addition to her legal credentials, she holds a masters degree in Bioethics. She has served as an adjunct professor for Excelsior College for many years and has taught courses in bioethics and law at the graduate level. She serves as one of the subcommittee Chairs for the NYS Bar Committee on Animals & Law, as well as being a board member for various county organizations.

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