How To Create Engaging Discussion Forums

Online Discussion Forums: Engage Your Learners
Summary: This article will discuss innovative ways you can make your discussion forums "the happening place" in your online classroom. The forums are the most interactive part and the heart of your online classroom.

Different Ways To Make Online Discussion Forums Engaging And Fun

The discussion forums are the heart and soul of your online classroom. Forums are also the most interactive part of the classroom where students get to interact with each other and the online teacher has the most chance to bond with their students and create a sense of community in the online classroom. Creating a community is important in online teaching so that the online teacher can create a safe learning space for students to flourish and learn online. This is especially important for online teaching since taking an online class can be quite isolating and lonely compared to a face-to-face classroom where you can see your classmates and your teacher in real time. Having engaging forums cuts down on that loneliness, making the online experience a more engaging experience.

1. Multiple Perspectives

Have your forum reflect multiple perspectives. When I taught Asian American online, I taught students about Asian culture. In Western fairytales, the hero defies his parents, marries the girl he wants/loves and walks off into the sunset with that girl. In Asian fairytales, the hero obeys to his parents, dumps the girl he loves to obey his parents, and marries the girl the parents want. He walks off into the sunset with the girl the parents want. Another example of an Asian hero is a young person who sacrifices his happiness by turning down the girl he loves in order to take care of his elderly parents. In other words, in Western culture, it is all about the individual pursuit of happiness. The emphasis is on the individual. However, in Asian culture, the emphasis is on the family and the group. A discussion on multiple perspectives is usually quite fascinating and fun in a forum discussion.

2. Peer Review/Collaborative Activity

In my ENGL 101 class, I have students peer review the draft version of their papers. Students give each other feedback and constructive criticism on each others' papers. I also give feedback as well. Students give feedback on essay structure and grammar (optional). I ask students these questions: Where is the essay weak? Where is the essay strong? Does the essay have a thesis statement? Is the thesis statement correctly placed in the essay? Does the essay have introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs? Do the topic sentences of each body paragraph match the thesis statement? By answering these questions and looking at each others' papers, the students reinforce what they learned in their weekly lectures on the 5-paragraph essay structure.

3. Online Quizzes And Games

For my ENGL 102 class, I am teaching students how to spot a fallacy and how to differentiate facts from opinions. There are many fallacy quizzes you can find online for students to take. Here is a link to a fallacy quiz I use all the time with my students. Now, this is an informal quiz and does not count for their grade at all. They just take the quiz for fun and then they tell each other their score in the forums. By taking fun online quizzes, students reinforce and test what they know about fallacies.

4. Guessing Games

In French, every French word is either masculine or feminine. French people have no problem telling which French nouns are masculine and which French nouns are feminine. However, American students have a lot of trouble telling the difference. The grammar rule is that 80% of French nouns that end in "e" are feminine and the French nouns that end in anything else are masculine. So, I have students post a French noun and the other students have to guess if that French noun is masculine or feminine. I started the game by posting the mystery French noun, and then I had a student guess what it is. Then that student would post their own mystery French noun and so on. Grammar guessing games can also be used for English grammar, too. In my ENGL 101 class, I had students guess if the sentence I posted was a simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, or compound-complex sentence.

5. Round Robin Activities

In my ENGL 200 Introduction to Literature class, I posted a writing prompt, "Jack entered the room and saw a dark figure..." Then the next student would post what dark figure they saw and then the next student would continue this story. I actually got this idea from Beth Driver who designed that Literature class. Beth Driver, a colleague of mine at AMU, designed a Round Robin forum activity where she had students write poems, plays, and fictional stories together using the Round Robin method in the forums. Since Beth Driver was the one who designed the classroom, I used her method. Students had a lot of fun creating stories together. And the very last student to post that week got the privilege of writing the ending to the story.

6. Role Play

In my LITR 201 World Literature class, I had students roleplay that they are the hero of the story and then I asked the students what they would do if they were the hero of the story. "What if" questions are fun. "What if you were Odysseus, how would you get back home to save Penelope from the suitors?" Since I had many military students, I asked what other military maneuvers Odysseus could have used to get home sooner.

7. Current Events

When I was teaching ENGL 102 about Media Bias and Fallacies, my class and I had a great time talking about the "ad hominem" fallacies occurring in the 2016 election. I would stay politically neutral of course. I would ask questions like "How did Hillary Clinton use the ad hominem fallacy?" and "How did Donald Trump use the ad hominem fallacy?" Students love to be able to apply the dry classroom material to real-life world events so that they make the connection between the academic field and their lives, making the forums a fun place to be. Also, when I was teaching students about fake news, we discussed the topic of "Pizzagate." I won't get into Pizzagate here, but you can look it up.

8. Student Teaching Forums

In my LITR 201 class, I put students into groups. Each group was responsible for a week's reading. Group 1 did the reading for week 1. Group 2 did the reading for week 2. Each group was responsible for leading that week's forum and playing the teacher for the week. This way, I was just standing by to make sure that each group was doing well in their forum and was having no difficulty understanding their reading. Students loved being able to take charge of the forums each week. I had each group post conversation threads based on reading questions from that week and then members of that group were responsible for answering all the posts for that week. I will credit Nancy Heckel, who was the designer of that classroom, for this novel idea.

9. Using Bloom's Taxonomy To Ask Teacher Questions

Bloom's taxonomy is a list of measurable verbs that measure how much a student has mastered the content of the class. The lowest level of learning involves memorization questions like "What is...?" "Tell me what happened in the story... " "Who were the characters in the story...?" and the highest level of learning involves students applying what they learned to their own lives, "How would you apply topic B to your own life?" "What would you do if you were...?" Most students enjoyed my teacher questions, but I found out that most of the time, if the questions were too hard, students would avoid answering the higher level Bloom questions and prefer answering only the lower level Bloom questions. Some students avoid the teacher questions altogether unless you make them part of their forum discussion grade in their forum discussion grading rubric. Adding Bloom questions helps teachers understand at what level the students are understanding the material. There are 6 levels to the Bloom taxonomy and I found out that, on average, students understood up to level 3 (applying).

10. Real Case Scenarios/Case Studies

I did not get to use too many case studies or real case scenarios in my forums, however, when I took professional development classes, we used case studies and real case scenarios all the time. Examples of real case scenarios would be, "If you were an online teacher, how would you handle a difficult student in the forums?" Then, each teacher had to answer how they would handle said difficult student. I know some fields like psychology, for instance, use case studies all the time in their forums to make their field come alive. For me, when teaching literature, the closest to case studies I used was in hypothetical role-play scenarios like the one I mentioned above about Odysseus returning home to save his wife, Penelope, from the suitors.

I hope you like my suggestions on how you can make your forums more interactive and fun! Remember as I mentioned before, your forums are the heart and soul of your class, so you can use these methods to make your class come alive for you. Have fun!