Skip to main content

Engaging students through online discussion boards

Tools for Teaching

Teams channels are a great space for fostering discussion and critical thinking skills with students as they are inclusive and engaging, making collaborative learning fun.

What did you do? Why did you do it?

We set up a number of channels on our class Team to foster discussion around key academic skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking, the last with embedded Flipgrid) as well as for a final project. We wanted to exploit opportunities for asynchronous and collaborative learning as a cohort, thus building a sense of community amongst students who were learning remotely.   As this was on a module to prepare students for postgraduate study in their departments, being able to reflect on their learning and progression with developing academic skills was a key learning outcome. Therefore, discussion was built into the module from week 1.

For example, a Sway introducing students to academic writing, assessments and marking criteria for the module and their prospective Schools (SSP and POLIS) was followed up by a task to post their initial thoughts on the ‘Writing discussion board’. Clear instructions were given in the activity and the discussion board to encourage participation and interaction amongst the students rather than just a dialogue between student and teacher. Here is an example:

What is your experience of academic writing?

Have you written a literature review or essay before? In English?

How do you feel about writing on this course and next year?

Like face-to-face learning, studying online will involve collaboration and discussion with your classmates and tutors. Reflecting on your learning will give you an opportunity to share your current feelings with your peers which can help you support each other to make the progress you want.

Task 5

Post your comments on your class Discussion Board – Academic Writing thread.

Reply to at least 2 of your peers.

  • Do they share the same or different responses as you?
  • Could this help you? Can you offer them any advice?

Let them know by replying to their posts. Remember to tag their name @ in your post so that they know they have a reply.

What was the impact of your practice and how have you evaluated it?

The students and teachers engaged well with the discussion boards finding them an effective way of pushing critical thinking to a new level, thus helping students think more about their learning. We had a rota system amongst the teaching staff to monitor and respond to student posts but encouraged peer responses as much as possible. Interaction was made easier perhaps due to the user-friendly interface of Teams which allows students to use emoticons to share their reactions, which they enjoyed doing. This makes for perhaps a more human experience, which was an important driver for building community in response to emergency remote learning, than the more static interface of Blackboard discussion boards on Minerva.

We soon realised that scaffolding learning in this way helped students have a space to process and think through their ideas and develop their discussion skills, which we hoped made them feel more confident about contributing in webinars. Some students commented on these discussion boards as the best aspect of the course at the end of module feedback:

I think the best part is the setting of specialized boards for the students to share questions and suggestions.”
“In my opinion, the best part of the module is its strong interactivity. After class, there will be many sections, such as reading, writing and speaking, for me to practice.

Although others commented that they didn’t make up for opportunities for face-to-face communication, we plan to implement online discussion boards in future reiterations of the module face to face as we believe they were a pedagogic advantage to the course design.

How could others benefit from this example?

Learning how to make the most of online discussion to support learning, and perhaps how this can be done more effectively through Teams than Minerva.

By Alison Leslie,, English for Academic Purposes

Do you have an example of your practice to share?

If you are interested in submitting an article to the TIPS Blog find out how to submit here, or contact the TIPS Editors at