9 Student Engagement Strategies for Online Discussion Forums

Last updated on: October 10, 2023

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Data from our 2022 Voice of the Online Learner report shows that 77% of learners reported they decided on the online modality before any other factor. As the demand for online offerings increases, it is important for faculty to deliver well-designed and engaging courses to meet their student’s needs.  

In online courses, students have been shown to demonstrate more positive attitudes and greater levels of performance when discussion boards are highly interactive. To ensure we, as faculty, connect with our students and deliver quality online learning experiences, we must re-think the ways we can engage with them to increase their level of participation so that students can reap all of the benefits of elearning.

Nine simple ways to increase student engagement in online discussion forums:

Increased student engagement in online forums Participate in the “Student Lounge”:

Respond to all student introductions. Post your own introduction and talk about both your personal and professional background. Your students will model how you relate to them. Follow-up on all questions – either privately or publicly.

Attach Photos, Images, Videos, Tweets, Links, etc,: 

If you really want to make your online course stand out from competition, use media to illustrate a point, create more conversation, inject humor, or just for fun. When using personalized videos, ensure you look into the camera to appear that you are making eye contact. Record videos using your webcam, smartphone, etc., and upload the files to YouTube, Vimeo, screencast.com, or use a service like VoiceThread. Encourage your students to do the same.

Read All the Posts:

Students who read all their fellow students’ postings consistently get higher grades, so you should do the same. You don’t have to respond to all posts – that may stifle a real discussion. Instead, give students the “space” to respond to each other.

Respond to Students with a Question, Affirmation, or Feedback: 

To replicate on-campus learning experiences online, respond frequently to your students individually – whether it’s private or public. This shows that you value them and allows you to identify at-risk students. Highlight the good points your students have made. Your interaction encourages students to post more often and stay engaged.

Ask Questions and Challenge Your Students to Think: 

Discussions are driven by questions – so ask. Guide your students to go deeper and think critically about the subject matter outside of what is provided in the course materials.

If a Discussion Is Lagging, Try Re-Framing the Question:

“Flipping” the question, or restating it using different terms, can help students understand the discussion better. If nothing seems to work, you may want to replace the question totally, or simply ask the question: “We seem to have some difficulty with this question, why do you think that is?”

Always Watch Your Online Tone: 

Qualify your tone if necessary. Avoid the overuse of exclamation points! NEVER TYPE IN ALL CAPS. Emoticons and symbols add value to the conversation when implemented sparingly. You incorporate humor, images, and frame your responses and statements for students to better understand you.

Affirm Your Students Whenever Possible:

Affirm (but don’t flatter) your students collectively and individually, with recognition of what they brought to the discussion. The affirmation may even be part of the framing you use to then ask them a question or encourage them to go deeper.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Students How a Particular Discussion Is Working: 

Periodically ask your students what’s good (or bad) about a particular discussion. How is it working/or not working for them? What could be improved? When you ask, be sure to acknowledge and act on their comments if needed.

Utilizing the above tips as you implement an online discussion will go a long way in student relationship management, increasing your presence, and encouraging creative thinking in the online classroom. For more best practices in engaging online learning environments , such as better utilizing media or increasing faculty-student engagement online, visit our Resources page.

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