Discussion posts & replies: a plea?

Let’s talk about the digital classroom real quick.

In many ways it’s messy—slapped together in a haphazard panic by people fatigued from, among so many other things, a constant need to develop their own digital literacy. Given the broader context, maybe we’re all doing this distance learning thing better than I give us credit for. 

But still, I can’t help thinking some of our writing activities are… I don’t know, lacking? And nothing is more lacking than discussion boards

Let’s get a couple points out of the way first:

  1. If done right (which, c’mon, how often is this happening?), discussion boards serve several significant purposes. Not least of which is authentic engagement with the class’s material.
  2. Discussion boards will inevitably follow some of us back to our in-person classes when the time comes. 
  3. Writing is ecological (more on that in a bit). So the way we approach discussion boards matters outside of the discussion board genre.

What are we, students and teachers from all education levels, supposed to do with a failing system despite its huge potential?

I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers. Frankly, that pedagogical thread is far too tangled for my liking. But I do have a thought. Hear me out: 

I, for one, love when researchers leverage social media to develop and refine their research questions. Networked participatory scholarship is not without its faults, but it does provide those outside the academic sphere a small opening to an otherwise impenetrable scholars-only club. (For a more nuanced discussion, check out this quick read.)

And that’s where I think Cooper’s ecological model of writing comes into play. She says:

“[A]ll the characteristics of any individual writer or of writing both determine and are determined by the characteristics of all other writers and writings in the system.”


“Writing, thus, is seen to be both constituted by and constitutive of these ever-changing systems, systems through which people relate as complete, social beings, rather than imagining each other as remote images: an author, an audience.”

Learning to communicate on discussion boards as complete, social beings whose ideas affect and are affected by the ideas of others will impact how we form and share knowledge outside of the digital classroom.

What researchers do on Twitter and other sites is in the same spirit as our discussion boards. They’ve been able to use digital spaces to mature their ideas. Why are we so weird with discussion boards then?

Maybe it’s time to shake up the standard conventions of discussion board posts and replies.

Ditch the formalities. Ask questions. Challenge ideas. Make responses shorter, more meaningful, and more conversational. Teachers and professors, compose your own discussion posts and reply to students in the same way you want them to be doing so they have a template to emulate. 

This is just my perspective; what’s yours?

5 thoughts on “Discussion posts & replies: a plea?

  1. Brittany, I love this. I definitely feel the angst of “discussion boards could be so much more.” Your blog post has, I think, the right tone for a discussion board: conversational, challenging, asks for response. Also, the tweet is :fire:.

    My friends and I definitely get into HEATED conversations about serious conversation in group chats. Obviously, an academic context would have to leave out certain brands of strong language, but I would be so much more excited about a discussion board that popped off like a that, haha. You know… like a discussion! Academic discussion boards miss so much of the interesting back and forth that can happen in less formal environments. I don’t think a lot of in-person classes do this well, either, because professorial moderation can sometimes be a barrier instead of a facilitator.

    Obviously the goal wouldn’t be to be a hot takes machine, but ditching some of the formalities would definitely make class more fun (and would probably help me capture and remember what was important about the discussion better).

  2. Hi Brittany,

    I agree with everything you said about the insincerity behind discussion board posts. For a long time I couldn’t quite pinpoint why exactly why writing/responding to posts gave me such a “gross” feeling, but now I see how the insincerity and anonymity of it all is probably what caused that. (I also recognize the irony of me trying to say something meaningful and sincere in comment format, but hey, I’m trying my best here!)

    To your point about ditching the formalities we typically employ in discussion board posts, I think we as a class have already started doing that a little. I’ve seen some of our classmates use less “heightened” or language and instead try to put things in the terms that we as young adults might actually speak/write with. I’ve also tried to do the same thing in my posts. There’s nothing wrong with heightened language of course, and it definitely has it’s place in wider academia, but I agree that it’s generally a good idea to use less formal language in order to replicate the experiences we might have if we had our discussions in-person in a classroom.

    Overall, nice post! I’m glad somebody finally said what we were all thinking about discussion boards. 🙂

  3. I like the idea behind this post, but I wonder if it has more to do with the way certain students learn. In-person classes have similar students, too, where they make comments only when called on, only to earn participation points, only to meet the bare minimum. I’ll admit, in discussion posts, I’m that kind of student. In classrooms, I’m so much more engaged, and I struggle with distance learning because of that distinction.

  4. I absolutely agree with the point of your blog post. Discussion posts are unhelpful at least in my disposition towards my school work. It certainly encourages doing the bare minimum and dancing around the likely hood of your professor even checking what you wrote. Other advanced practices that help to hinder online learning is simply reading other students’ discussion posts and simply regurgiting them rather than actually reading the assigned readings. Overall, discussion posts create harmful attitudes and shortcuts and that hinder learning. I suppose it may not be any different than reading a synoposis for a quiz, but I also suspose those do not exist for most academic articles. Overall, it is a flawed system no doubt and one that cannot be fixed without a significant influx of effort from instructors in creating quizes or other less short cut prone methods of instruction which are more difficult to create and grade.

  5. Brittany,
    I think your post is so interesting, and on point. Discussion boards are difficult places for interactions. For me, discussion needs to be natural and in the moment for it to be engaging and debated. Discussion board posts do not give off this same energy. I can only speak for myself, but I feel like sometimes I get repetitive in my feedback to others and it isn’t genuine. Maybe being more digital with the discussion boards could be effective: setting a certain date with a small group of people each week to talk about whatever is on the table for each specific week. Possibly record that meeting and submit for a grade. It’s a thought?

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