During an in-person classroom experience, you might raise questions about the material, discuss and work through problems with classmates, or debate opposing views on a topic. Whether you participate frequently, speak occasionally, or mostly listen and take notes, you are having a real-time experience with fellow students guided by a professor or TA with expertise in the subject.

In a hybrid or fully online course, your real-time discussions now become discussion boards on Canvas. Learn the benefits and challenges to using discussions boards and tips to be successful.

Challenges of Discussion Boards

  • No real-time verbal discussions. Conversations in real time have more potential to flow naturally in a way that a discussion board back-and-forth exchange cannot.
  • No face-to-face interaction. Along with the inability to hear and respond to people in real time, students also can no longer factor in facial expression and body language when taking in communication and responding.
  • Potentially more time-consuming. For many students, communicating on a discussion board takes more time than it would to be in class. Because it is writing instead of talking, students tend to think more before posting. Also, some professors may require a series of posts that need to be made over the course of the week, which adds to the time commitment.
  • Possibly more work. If you find writing challenging, you may have to put more work into a discussion board response than you would if you were speaking. Also, the requirements for posting may add to the workload, such as when a professor requires a student to make a certain number of original posts and responses to other student posts.

Benefits of Discussion Boards

  • More time to think through your answers. On a discussion board, you have plenty of time to work out an effective response as long as you make the deadline, and you are free to rework your thoughts as many times as you need until you are satisfied enough to post them. This is especially helpful to students who aren’t comfortable quickly formulating a response to share verbally in class.
  • More freedom to choose when to participate. Did your in-person class meet too early, too late, or right during your mid-afternoon low-energy time? Problem solved! As long as you adhere to deadlines, you can post at a time of day when your brain is most alert.
  • Higher rate of participation. Generally, not every student participates verbally in the classroom, even if participating is part of the grade. However, on a discussion board, everyone is required to participate, which can strengthen the community and broaden the range of ideas and responses.
  • Potentially greater learning. Ah yes – that learning thing – the ultimate goal of college! Sure, it may take time and effort to write thoughtful, numerous posts on a discussion board to your instructor’s questions and to your classmates’ answers. But more time and effort spent thinking about the content likely means deeper understanding and more effective learning (with the potential consequence of better grades).

Tips for Success

Learn how to navigate your discussion boards each semester:

  1. Know what is required. Check emails and Canvas to make sure you know how many posts, and what type, you need to make.
  2. Schedule your posting deadlines. Pay attention to when you need to post. Professors may set separate deadlines through the week—because when everyone posts in the last two hours of the deadline day, it doesn’t allow students to respond to one another or learn from the conversation. Put each deadline in your schedule or planner.
  3. Know what discussion boards are worth. Some professors use discussion boards as participation points and others may adjust the grading plan to accommodate for the task of posting. Get clear on what your work is worth to your grade and what the consequences are if you miss posting deadlines.
  4. Read through discussion boards. You never know what insights you may gain from taking time to explore the discussion. You may want to schedule some time each week to read the boards, perhaps on the last day that postings are due.
  5. Communicate your questions. There are no stupid questions. If anything is unclear, ask the professor or TA for clarification.