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For Online Students: How to Write Solid Discussion Board Posts (& Classmate Replies)

"I just feel uncomfortable writing to people that I don't really know."

In online learning, the discussion board is the classroom area and it is considered a FORMAL setting. There are usually two components to this feature: Discussion and Participation.  Discussion is the initial response to the assigned discussionor homework questions.  Participation involves the replies or posts made to classmates regarding their own discussions.  Your discussion work must reflect your clear understanding of the lesson material. It is important that you present your best work on the discussion board. These tips and examples can help you create discussion work that will not only help you master the learning material but help ensure solid discussion scores.

Now that you have committed to taking an online course, it is important to understand the writing requirements necessary for success.

Sample Discussion Response (undergraduate)

Sample Discussion Response (graduate)

Sample Classmate Reply

Stress Free Learning Tip:

Draft ALL work away from the classroom in word-processing software first. This addresses two important concerns:

1) Use the grammar and spell check functions to create well-written posts that are error free.

2) Create a copy of all of your work in the event of technical difficulty. There is nothing more frustrating than typing all of your work, clicking on [Post] and receiving an error message or platform freeze.

Consider the following standards when drafting your Discussion response.

A high quality response to an assigned question follows all aspects of developing good short answer responses. An acceptable post is no less than the minimum of the stated word length requirement and refers to the question using personal examples or general responses.  A high quality discussion EXCEEDS STANDARDS and uses specific examples and details from the reading material to support personal examples.  This demonstrates your ability to apply what you have learned to your own specific experience. Adult learning is utilitarian in nature.  You must be able to make connections between what you are learning and how it will specifically be used in your anticipated career setting.  This is the time to reflect this.  

Specifically, a high quality post:

Makes direct references to the lesson material and includes specific details and examples, supported with appropriate citation (if new to citation, includes a page number for starters, but attempts to demonstrate academic integrity).

Is on topic and contributes to the quality of the discussion. Addresses all sub-questions, if present.

Uses the wording of the discussion question(s) or writing prompt(s) in the development of the topic sentence(s) used in the written response(s).

Exceeds word minimums but doesn’t fall off topic. Using clear and specific details makes meeting this specific standard easy.

Uses proper paragraphing technique to separate responses to various sub-questions

Uses correct spelling and grammar.

This is your time to shine; make it good!

SAMPLE DISCUSSION QUESTION & RESPONSES (Undergraduate Level) [TOP]

In our recent study of learning styles, we learned the importance of locating helpful resources that address our learning preferences to assist with understanding.  Using class materials or open web credible resources, discuss a reading strategy that appeals to you the most.  Discuss its perceived weaknesses and strengths (minimum 250 words)

Sample Discussion Response (the following example is 320 words):

During last week’s discussion on learning styles, I learned that I am a visual learner (Tyler, 2013). While I already knew that I like to see what I am learning, it was good to have my own thoughts supported through this lesson. 

The reading strategy that appealed to me the most was the suggestion in our reading to use the closed caption function whenever I am watching a movie or TV.  I started using this earlier in the term and I think it has a lot of strengths. There are a couple of minor problems such as the placement of the captions during sports games, for example, but it is easy to turn off.  I don’t give the disadvantages much thought. In addition, the advantages really outweigh any problems. By using the closed caption function on my TV, my eyes naturally follow the words, just as Bass suggested (2013). This makes it difficult to avoid.  But, I also like the fact that this is a passive form of study.  I don’t get much time to watch TV during the week but there are a few shows I like to watch and I can still be in the process of learning while relaxing.  I can work on my reading comprehension without really thinking about what I am doing.  I have also noticed that it is very easy to find errors in the closed captions (Bass, 2013).  I never even thought about how bad spelling gets in the way of reading until I started getting frustrated with the poor spelling in the captions.  It just made me more self-conscious of my own writing.  I can now find spelling errors in my own work more easily.  I am also using this with my kids and they are beginning to recognize more words.  Overall, I never knew that something as simple as using closed caption would make such a difference in my reading and writing ability.

Bass, M. (2013). Closed captioning to reading improvement. Elkhart, IN: Sample Publisher.

Tyler, H. (2013), Learning styles. Elkhart, IN: Sample Publisher

SAMPLE CLASSMATE REPLY [TOP]

First of all, address your classmates by name. It is such a small gesture but one that can add a heightened sense of community in the discussion. You spend a lot of time writing your work; addressing classmates by name encourages them to engage and read it! I strongly encourage responding to the classmates who take time to reply to you. If you feel uncomfortable with the classmate reponses process, this can help reduce your anxiety. Responding to these classmates helps to create more natural communications because they are engaging in a conversation you initiated. It can be a very powerful segment of your online learning that creates rich working relationships. It can be something as simple as a smiley emoticon to acknowledge your classmate's comments. An ignored classmate reply, however, can feel like an ignored text and cause some students to feel hesitant about reaching out to you in the future. As with all experiences, the more you reap, the greater your harvest.

Most discussion lessons offer suggestions for replies to the postings of classmates. Consult posted guidelines while developing your responses to be certain you meet all standards. Use the grading table or rubric as a checklist! In addition, consider many of the ideas discussed here.  A high quality response to a posting by a classmate refers to a specific passage in the material, the idea that it presented the subject matter in a different way, or the opportunity the posting provided to consider the discussion topic from a different point of view. It extends the conversation by offering a question or by presenting an opportunity to share a personal anecdote related to the topic. For undergraduate classrooms, a good classmate discussion should be at least 75-100 words in length.  Using good clear details and examples help make any word limit easy to meet.

Sample Response to Undergraduate Post Above (89 words)

Dear Nyela – I am glad to hear your review of the closed caption system for improving reading comprehension. I was wondering how this particular technique actually worked. I am especially inspired by your findings related to how it improves your spelling.  I am a visual learner, too, but sometimes have problems with clearly remembering how to spell words. Once I get them down on paper I can usually see the errors.  By practicing with the closed caption, I can see how this would be very helpful!  Thanks for the great feedback!
~Elijah

[TOP]

SAMPLE GRADUATE DISCUSSION QUESTION & RESPONSE [TOP]

Looking at "A Nation at Risk" as a Research Study
Evaluate Nation at Risk as research study; how does it compare to the qualities of a solid dependable study (valid and reliable). Locate information concerning the study A Nation at Risk and after looking at the components, findings, and recommendations share your thoughts about how this study was organized and written (650 word minimum).

Consider any of these questions in your summary:
What was the purpose of this study?
What problem was it addressing?
What were the research questions or hypotheses?
Was there an extensive literature review giving various positions?
What was the general data-gathering method employed? Which scientific paradigm was used – quantitative, qualitative or mixed?
What were the limitations of this study? The delimitations of this study?
What were the findings?
What recommendations were made as a result of this study?
Share your thoughts about the precision of the study as research.

Discussion Response sample (713 words) [TOP]

The purpose of A Nation at Risk, borne out of the Reagan Administration, was to addressed perceived problems related to under education in America, specifically America’s lack of ability to produce a economically productive citizenry. It became the platinum research standard that launched an entire war on educational “mediocrity.”  As anyone can imagine, coming out of the Cold War with such an indictment on the education system was alarming.  The greatest country in the world was producing sub-standard students.  Something had to be done to save the nation’s schools.

It was designed to address the underlying causes of the failing education system and make recommendations for improvement. “Only one-third of 17-year-olds, it found, could solve a math problem requiring several steps; only one-fifth could write a decent persuasive essay. Millions of adults were illiterate. SAT scores were dropping” (Topo, 2008, par. 9). The Commission concluded that content had been dummied down, expectations regarding student accountability had decreased, time engaged in learning fell way below that of comparable nations, and teachers were being recruited from the bottom of the barrel of graduate classes.  Overall, the American school system had adopted a path of accepted mediocrity (“A Nation,” 2005).  This was alarming.  How could a global powerhouse such as the United States have such dismal projections for the educational future of its children?  [TOP]

Specific research questions or hypotheses were difficult to locate. Looking back at this history provides a clear view of the errors in this “research”.  The process was more like a workshop of educators, business leaders, and legislators presenting “seminars” to a hearing board.  President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education was comprised of 18 people from the private, government and education sectors of the community. There were no research questions or hypotheses used to direct the focus of the study.  There were four pre-determined areas of discussion:  “content, expectations, time, and teaching” (“A Nation,” 2004). It did have a central guiding focus in the form of then U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell’s personal conclusion that the American education system was unable to produce a “competitive workforce.” He, for one was elated at the findings because they proved him to be accurate (Topo, 2008). The process was unlike linear research in which a hypothesis is supported with a literature review, experimentation, and evaluation.  It involved the review of 41 peer reviewed and published studies pre-selected for use. The research behind the selected documents was then summarized in the report, which included suggestions for remedies based on their findings. Then, the Commission travelled around the country and conducted six public hearings with invited participants, scheduled speakers, and interested citizens ("A Nation," 2008).  [TOP]

As a product of the “Nation At Risk” era, in regard to teacher education and certification, I lived through the burdens these findings placed on the education community.  I remember the great debates after school as we tried to desperately find ways to meet the needs of these newly identified mediocre populations.  The confusion led to highly passionate, often heated, faculty meetings that introduced ideas such as schedule changes, school-community councils, alternative discipline, and authentic assessment as methods upon which student success could be found.  Nothing seemed to work.  Even the heads of the two national teaching associations, the National Education Association and the National Federation of Teachers, took opposing sides.  Ultimately, it led to sweeping legislation such as No Child Left Behind, as the GOPs response to the lack of attention from previous administrations (Topo, 2008).  As we look at our currently, beyond crumbling public school system in America, it is easy to see that remedies were elusive.

As can be learned from the many decades since, the report led American education reform on a disastrous path now speeding toward privatization in pursuit of a free market world economy. Further study of research methods clearly finds this report was developed without ethical and appropriate research standards.  It is also the greatest example of the need for ethical research.  “Do no harm.”  Because of trying to address of this single report, America has failed miserably in any major form of transformative education policy in the decades since its development. This document should be shelved with the annuals of harmful studies along with those the likes of Mengele and Tuskegee. [TOP]

Resources:

A Nation at Risk. (2004, August). Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/a-nation-at-risk/

A Nation at Risk report. (2005). Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum. Retrieved from http://mathcurriculumcenter.org/PDFS/CCM/summaries/NationAtRisk.pdf

Topo, G. (2008, August 1). Nation at Risk: The best thing or the worst thing for education? USA Today [Online]. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-04-22-nation-at-risk_N.htm

Mastery of the Discussion area is imperative to success! Solid writing skills can help ensure keeping discussion scores high! I hope you find this information helpful!

[TOP]

Learning should be challenging but not frustrating. I am happy to provide these stress-free suggestions for making your journey to success one to enjoy!

Join the conversation on my Facebook page: Education Coffeehouse: Encourage, Engage and Educate

~Professor Marsha

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