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Discussion forums

All about online discussion forums in .
people carrying paper cutouts of speech bubbles

Discussion forums (also known as online forums, discussion boards and online discussions) have been around since the early days of the internet and have changed little over the years. The general principle behind them is to provide a place for people at a distance and at different times to come together to talk about a common subject.

Discussion forums have also featured in online learning from the beginning because they offer a great way to:

  • continue discussions that started in classrooms
  • allow students to prepare for upcoming lessons
  • provide a space for students to collaborate with each other
  • create a place for working through ideas without having to be in the same place at the same time

You will find discussion forums around the internet for asking questions and providing answers (Q&A), but usually in educational settings forums are for generating deeper knowledge about a specific topic or question posed by a tutor.

Many students find it easier to formulate their thoughts and respond better when they have time to reflect on a topic and carefully write their answers than they do on the spur of the moment speaking up in a classroom. Online forums allow these students to excel.

Discussion forums are also a great way to share resources efficiently with large group of people.

Forum etiquette (Netiquette)

Because discussion forums are not face-to-face interactions and it’s impossible to use body language and other visual cues to interpret meaning, misinterpretations can lead to bad feelings.

Certain rules for behaviour have become commonplace, sometimes called netiquette (a combination of “net”, short for “internet”, and “etiquette”). These rules are designed to establish trust within the group and keep the discussion pleasant and focused on the topic, such as:

  • Be professional, thoughtful, truthful and sincere. The goal is to learn and not to show off, have a laugh or disrupt other students.
  • Don’t be afraid to join in – sitting back and reading without contributing is called “lurking”.
  • On the other hand, try not to dominate discussion: give other students the opportunity to join in.
  • Keep on the topic: if you have something off-topic you really want to say, use social media or ask your tutor to start another discussion elsewhere.
  • Keep the discussion polite and write in language appropriate to an academic setting.
  • Respect your fellow students and do not share personal or sensitive information.
  • Keep an open mind and be willing to express and consider less popular opinions.
  • Be very careful with humour: jokes and sarcasm can seem much stronger and more hurtful on the screen than in person.
  • Try to use correct grammar and spelling, but be generous and don’t call attention to anyone who makes mistakes. The ideas are what’s important, but good grammar and spelling help to get those ideas across more clearly.
  • Avoid using all capital (upper case) letters since this is commonly used online to express shouting and anger.
  • Don’t rely on Emojis. Some courses will ban them completely, preferring you to express yourself in writing.

Your institution and courses may have other rules in keeping with local codes of conduct, so be sure to check.

Discussion points:

The comments for each step throughout this course are really informal discussion forums, giving you the opportunity to share your views and interact with the views of others through conversations.

  • How well has this worked for you? What have you gotten out of contributing to these conversations?
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