Take a deep breath: Learning the new discussion board feature in Blackboard 7.3

I am currently viewing and working with the new discussion board feature in Blackboard 7.3. Like all new technology, I’ve found the best way to learn how to use it is try it out and think about how I might use it. My memories of using Blackboard’s discussion forum feature in the past are not all that good. There were a lot of features (namely the slowness of viewing the posts and the logistics of grading them) that didn’t thrill me.

After a cursory look at the NEW discussion board feature in Blackboard 7.3, I think you will be impressed. Yes, it will take a bit of getting used to, but it will also give you added features–namely the ability to grade individual threads and entire discussion forums. (I haven’t seen how this integrates with the gradebook, but I believe that whenever you grade a discussion post and/or forum, the grade is automatically plunked into your gradebook. Now THAT’S a time saver!)

Learning how to use the technology is important (of course) but more importantly, it’s essential that you know how to integrate it with your course planning and learning objectives. All of the technological knowledge of Blackboard Discussion Boards won’t matter a hoot if your course content and assessments don’t match your learning objectives and/or don’t make sense to your students. Therefore, WHILE you are learning how to use the new discussion board feature in Blackboard, you’ll also want to consider how to best organize your discussion forums (think of these as the “containers” or larger topics that will hold your subtopics and threads) and how to make your Blackboard course site a powerful learning experience for your students. Here are some suggestions:

At the start of your course, you will probably want to include the following:

    1. Post a beginning welcome message, with an overview and what you would like students to do before the course starts. You might also encourage students to comment to this post to ask any further questions.
    2. Provide directions on how to use the discussion forum
    3. Set discussion forum expectations (netiquette, how they should participate, any rubrics, grading, etc.)

      In advance of each major discussion forum, you should:

      1. Establish learning objectives (what you want your learners to be able to do/demonstrate after participating in the discussion forum.
      2. Decide upon:
        • How you will achieve the learning objectives (content in the discussion forum)
        • How students will be evaluated (will you provide a rubric?)
        • How will students be grouped (whole class, small groups?)
        • What type of activity will you use? Online debate, problem-based scenario, role playing, peer-assessment, etc., etc.)
        • Time frame: set beginning and end (due dates) for postings.

      At the start of each major discussion board forum, you should:

      1. Post a welcome and overview of the session and expectations for the forum.
      2. Outline activity/discussion forum expectations to students, including how much participation they should expect from you.
      3. Communicate learning objectives (through rubric, with assessment criteria.)

      During the discussion board assignment:

      1. Monitor and balance (as needed) the discussion forum and participate as needed to maintain student engagement.
      2. Email reminder notices if necessary to encourage participation.
      3. Provide feedback and grade if required.
      4. Check for understanding if needed.

      After the discussion forum is over:

      1. Write a wrap up of the discussion or (even better!) assign different students to do this throughout the semester.
      2. Post a summary of the discussion forum outcomes as an announcement (optional, but a time saver over posting discussion board comments to each posting!)
      3. Ask students to participate in post-discussion survey/poll to see how it went, posting results to students.
      4. Revise, as needed, discussion board assignment for future classes.

      I still have a lot to learn about the new discussion board feature in Blackboard and will be posting my findings and other ideas as they come to me. Until then, try out the new features for yourself and create some practice discussion forums and threads, along with the grading options. You can also include tags in your postings and ratings. Don’t expect to learn all the features at once. You might even want to tell your students that you will be exploring the features with them and invite their comments and ideas on how to use the new features. Set up some “test” discussion board forums and threads, along with practice (extra credit!) grades to see how the gradebook integrates. Your students will get practice and will certainly like the extra credit.

      Take it slowly and don’t fret if everything doesn’t turn out exactly as you were planning. When you get frustrated, step away from the computer or tackle another challenge. The next time you go back, you will start with fresh ideas and inspiration. As Skype always tells us when something goes a little askew, “Take a deep breath.”

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