Encouraging Participation in Threaded Discussion Groups

Probably one of the most used tools in online and hybrid courses is the Threaded Discussion.  Threaded discussions serve as an asynchronous tool to simulate in-class discussions over time and distance.  An advantage for an online asynchronous discussion is the de-emphasis on rapid response and quick thinking (and typing in an online chat tool).

Improving Threaded Discussion Participation

Have you ever wondered, "How can I get my students to participate more, as well as more effectively, in my threaded discussions?" Below are a few things to think about:

  1. Clear Communication of Expectations. Going beyond a simple invitation to join in the discussions, most of the more successful instructors make it very clear as to what they consider to be appropriate performance. They describe how, as well as how often, students are to participate (e.g., "you are to log into each week's discussion at least twice a week, once before Wednesday, to respond to the initial question posted, and again later in the week, before Saturday at 6 p.m., to respond to at least two of your classmates' responses").
  2. Make It Count. Without exception, those instructors who appear to be getting the most effective results make it clear that participation counts in a variety of ways. They know that students tend to ignore that which does not get a grade. So, they let their students know that it is not optional and a significant portion of their grade will depend on the quantity and quality of participation.
  3. Active, Supportive Mentoring. The most successful instructors are very active and supportive. They reach out to all students, particularly the most tentative. They actively find ways to comment positively or reinforce the contributions of students, and provide corrective feedback in sensibly sensitive ways.

Often, student participation in the threaded discussions is evaluated and is assessed as part of the course grade. It is important to have a grading rubric, published in the course syllabus, for how you will evaluate student participation in threaded discussions. Please review the links under Additional Resources for few links to models for you to consider as you establish your own grading parameters.

Finally, a conference paper by Dringus and Ellis on building the SCAFFOLD, Scale for Forums/Online Discussion Assessment, describes the SCAFFOLD instrument as a tool for categorizing and describing contributions.

Additional Resources: