Open the line of communication and engage your students with online discussions.

Discussions are a good way to encourage students to think critically about your coursework and interact with each others' ideas. You can create discussions around individual course lessons or for your course in general. As the instructor, you own the discussions. After you start a discussion, you can post comments of your own to guide students.

More on discussions, forums, and threads with JAWS®

The most common form of interaction in an online course is through discussions started by an instructor. Participation and interaction in discussions don't occur naturally. You must intentionally design it into your courses. To encourage engaging, quality discussion, craft discussion questions carefully and create inquiry.

In the Original Course View, discussion contain forums and threads. In the Ultra Course View, discussions happen in one place.


Develop successful online discussions

Help your students feel comfortable and provide them with guidelines as they begin to participate in discussions.

Here are four general steps to developing successful online discussions to help build community and fulfill assignments.

  1. Define participation requirements.
    • Share your expectations. Create a discussion where students can read about etiquette and access grading information.
    • Model proper online interaction and reinforce appropriate behavior with public recognition.
  2. Craft an effective question.
    • Incorporate multimedia resources into your questions to reduce the monotony of purely text-based interactions. With the popularity of services like YouTube™, you can ask students to view a clip and ask for responses.
  3. Encourage new ideas.
    • If discussion posts contain too much agreement and not enough questioning of ideas, assign students with the last names A-M to support one side and N-Z to support the other.
  4. Moderate.
    • Establish your presence. Ask for clarification, resources, or input from silent participants.

Watch a video about discussions

Doesn't seem familiar? Watch a video about discussions in the Ultra Course View.

The following narrated video provides a visual and auditory representation of some of the information included on this page. For a detailed description of what is portrayed in the video, open the video on YouTube, navigate to More actions, and select Open transcript.


Video: Use discussions explains how to use discussions in the Original Course View.


Access discussions

Doesn't seem familiar? Jump to the "Ultra" help about discussions.

You can allow users to access discussions in several ways. You can add a customized link to the course menu and to a course area. When you provide a link to discussions in a course area, students can access the tool alongside other course content.

As an instructor, on the Control Panel, expand the Course Tools section and select Discussion Board. From this link, access the course discussion board and the group discussion boards for the groups in your course.

Discussion board structure

If you use the Ultra Course View, you won't see forums or threads. Jump to the Ultra help about discussions.

Just as it's critical to plan and structure your course content, you need to provide structure for online discussions.

The main discussion board page displays a list of forums. A forum is where participants discuss a topic or a group of related topics. Within each forum, users can create multiple threads. A thread includes the initial post and all replies to it. You can create forums and threads to organize discussions into units or topics relevant to your course.

More on forums

More on threads

Discussions appear sequentially so all course members can follow the conversation.


Discussion Board page

Doesn't seem familiar? Jump to the "Ultra" help about the Discussions page.

The discussion board is commonly accessed from the course menu, although you can provide a link to it in another course area, such as in a content area.

The Discussion Board page contains a list of all the forums you've created. You must first create one or more forums before users can start message threads. You can also search for discussion content. By default, the search field appears collapsed to save screen space.

  1. To sort the list based on a column, select the column heading.
  2. To view the posts in a forum, select the forum title. Forum titles in bold contain unread posts.
  3. For each forum, view the total number of posts, the number of unread posts, the number of replies to you, and the number of participants. For quick access to the forum's unread messages, select the link in the Unread Posts column.

ULTRA: Where to find discussions

Doesn't seem familiar? Jump to the "Original" help about setting up discussions.

You're in control—customize discussion placement and student access. All new discussions are hidden at first. You can freely edit and make them visible when you're ready for student participation.

You can create discussions in two locations within a course.

  • Create a discussion directly on the Course Content page so it appears with the rest of your materials.
  • Navigate to the course discussion page and set it up there—just select the Discussions icon on the navigation bar. Then you can choose if you want to include the discussion on the Course Content page.

ULTRA: Watch a video about discussions

Doesn't seem familiar? Watch a video about discussions in the Original Course View.

The following narrated video provides a visual and auditory representation of some of the information included on this page. For a detailed description of what is portrayed in the video, open the video on YouTube, navigate to More actions, and select Open transcript.


Video: Discussions shows how you can easily create and manage discussions.


ULTRA: Discussions page

Doesn't seem familiar? Jump to the "Original" help about discussions.

Discussions are an easy way to engage students in your courses! They broaden communication and foster strong connections among the group. This feature is a staple for online instructors, and now we've made it simpler to use.

Create opportunities for interaction right where you need them. On your Course Content page, just select the plus sign or the Discussions icon to add a discussion.

Use the activity stream to your advantage. Review student contributions and respond from the activity stream. Or, you can jump to the full course discussion from the activity stream.

You own discussions. Not ready to share a new discussion? Hide it. Want to make it simpler? Create folders to organize discussions. You can also rearrange the order, or delete an entire discussion or specific response. New discussions are hidden from students by default. When you're ready to start, make your discussions visible to get your students talking!

No need to dig—everything's on the surface. Want to know how many times a student participated in a specific discussion? You can filter by participant name, see the number of posts each contributed, and jump right in!


ULTRA: Discussions or conversations?

While you can use class discussions to develop or share ideas, you can also use conversations for quick exchanges on specific content. For example, when you create assignments, you can enable conversations. Anyone can make a contribution to the assignment conversation—ask for help, share sources, or answer questions others have. Everyone can read the conversations while they view the assignment.

Conversations appear only with the relevant content item and don't appear on the discussions page.


ULTRA: Create a discussion

On the Course Content page, select the plus sign wherever you want to add a discussion. Select Create > Participation and Engagement > Discussion.

Type a meaningful title to help students find the right discussion in the content list. If you don't add a title, "New Discussion" and the date appear on the main discussion page. The placeholder title appears grayed out until you add some content or click anywhere on the page. If you add no content, an empty discussion with the placeholder title appears on the Course Content page and on the Discussions page.

Make an initial post to start the discussion. Include guidelines and expectations to get students off to a good start. You can use the options in the editor to format your text.

To use your keyboard to jump to the editor toolbar, press ALT + F10. On a Mac, press Fn + ALT + F10. Use the arrow keys to select an option, such as a numbered list.

You can show or hide the discussion from your students. You can edit this option at any time. New discussions are hidden by default.

Select the Edit Discussion Settings icon to open the settings panel. Select the options that work best for your discussion.

  • Bring your discussion to the surface. Select the Display on the Course Content page check box to include the discussion alongside other content items on the Course Content page.
  • Grade the discussion. To motivate students to post insightful contributions, you can make the discussion count for a grade.
  • Assign a rubric. After you select Graded discussion, you can choose to create or add an existing rubric. You may associate only one rubric to each discussion.
  • Require students to post first. Discussions can be a great way to get a conversation going, but some students may rely too much on the thoughts of others when drafting a response. To encourage critical and original thinking, you can require students to post a response before they can view activity in a discussion. Hidden responses and replies can help students cultivate their own ideas on your initial discussion topic. Select Post First to hide discussion activity from students until they respond to the discussion. When you want to use both post first and discussion groups, select Post First before you assign groups.
  • Align goals with the discussion. You and your institution can use goals to measure student achievement across programs and curriculums. When you create a discussion, you can align one or multiple goals. Select the Settings icon and then Align with goals to search for available goals to align with the discussion. After you make the discussion available, students can view information for the goals you align with the discussion so they know your expectations.

    More on how to align goals with course content

  • Focus the conversation. You can assign students to discussion groups so each person has fewer participants to reply to, or to take the conversation in a more specific direction.