Why You Should Participate in Online Discussion Boards

Use the discussion board as a way to chat with your classmates (Photo by zoetnet)

You’ve done everything you’ve needed to, so far. You’ve enrolled at an accredited distance learning institution, you have fired up and tested all the required technology, you’ve acquired all your textbooks, read the syllabus, and attended the first lecture. You are well on your way to progressing in your distance learning career. Hold on, though. There’s more work to be done. While you are completing your first homework assignment, don’t forget to check the discussion board for the latest discussion topic, and respond to it as quickly and completely as you can.

What is the big deal with discussion boards? They are important to the instructor because they are just about the closest thing to raising your hand in class that you can get in distance learning. You may have opportunities during class meetings to make a comment or two, but you won’t have much of a chance there for in-depth analysis.  The instructor uses the discussion board to follow the level of understanding in his class, and to encourage participation in the subject. It’s one of the best ways for online professors to connect with their students.

Before you draft your first post, be aware that there are a few guidelines to follow, to get the most out of responding to the instructor’s topics. First, post early. When the discussion board is blank, whatever you say will be fresh. If you wait until the end of the week to add your thoughts, other students may have already come up with the same research and ideas that you had in mind. You don’t want to get stuck saying, “I agree,” just because you can’t come up with anything new.

Second, try not to say, “I agree.” The instructor isn’t looking for one idea with a lot of happy faces following it. He wants a thorough discussion of the subject, backed up by research. Otherwise, he’s going to think either that he’s not getting his point across, or that the class isn’t trying very hard. Guess which one is going to be his preferred option, and then see if you can guess how that’ll affect everyone’s grades.

Also, if you do disagree with a classmate, obey the rules of “netiquette”. Click here for a discussion of the appropriate behavior for a distance learning environment.

Finally, this is college. The colleagues that you meet here may very well turn out to be the same ones you later encounter in the workplace. Don’t brush off your classmates, just because you can’t grab a coffee with them after class. Get to know your fellow students. They may turn out to be great in group assignments. They may be able to help with homework. They may even end up having just the lead you need for that next job.

The same goes for your instructor. Put in some effort in his class, and he may be able to reward you with more than just a good grade. See Use All of Your College Resources: The Professors for more on that point.

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