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Getting Started with Discussion Forums

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This visual quick-start guide explains how to read, post and reply to messages in a discussion forum.

What is a discussion forum?

A discussion forum enables a group of people (e.g. your class) to communicate online. It is similar to email, but is separate from your usual email account.

  • The forum stores and organizes all of the group’s messages.
  • You can read old messages or post new messages at any time.
  • You can search the forum for messages containing keywords that you specify.

Accessing the discussion forum

Discussion forum highlighted on Blackboard course menu

Click on the "Communications" link and then select the link to the "Discussion Board". Your instructor may also have chosen to add a button to the Navigation bar that links directly to the Discussion Board.

Your course may have more than one forum, each of which contains messages about a specific topic. If you look to the right of each forum’s description, you can see how many messages that forum contains, as well as how many of them you have not read yet.

forum menu

Click on the forum’s name to see a list of its messages.

Back to top

The list of messages

When you first view the list of messages, it only shows those that start a thread. A thread is a group of messages about the same topic.

list messages Blackboard screen

A "+" (plus) icon to the left of a message’s subject shows you that the message is the start of a thread. click the "+" icon to see all the messages in that thread.

The thread expands to show all the messages in the thread.

Note: additional "+" icons indicate that there are also replies to some replies

When the thread is expanded the icon changes to a "-" (minus).

For additional control of the threaded messages:

  1. click on the "-" to collapse the thread again
  2. click the "Expand All button to view a list of every message in all threads
  3. use the "Collapse All" button to view a list of only those messages that start a new topic
  4. click on the link to the first message to follow (read) the discussions in the thread.

Message Threads

A thread is a series of messages about the same topic. It consists of a message that starts a new topic, plus any replies to that message – plus any replies to the replies, and so on. Threads make it easier for you to follow the discussions about a particular topic within a forum.

message threads

Click on a message’s subject to follow (read) the discussions in that thread.

Following a Thread

Note the Previous Message and Next Message buttons above and below the message text – use these to read other messages in the thread. Alternatively, if you scroll down you will see links to all the messages in the thread – use these to view a specific message.

previous ans next threaded discussion messages

Click [OK] to return to the list of messages.

Read and unread messages

Messages you have already read are colored gray. Messages that you have not read are colored red and have a New icon to the right of them.

Viewing Only Unread Messages

It is often useful to see only new messages that you have not read, especially if the discussion forum already contains a lot of messages.

viewing threaded messages

Click the "View Unread Messages" button to switch between viewing all messages and viewing only unread messages.

By default, the list of messages only shows messages that start a thread, so you must also click the "Expand All" button to see every unread message in every thread.

Click on the message’s subject to read it. You can easily view other messages in the thread (read or unread) by clicking on the links at the foot of the message.

Click [OK] to return to the list of unread messages – but note that the message(s) you have just read will have been removed from the list.

Replying to a message

Click the "Reply" button at the foot of a message to post a response. Your new message will be added to the end of the thread.

Note that your reply’s subject is based on that of the original message – it is often a good idea to edit this so it summarizes your reply – for example ""Designing well-controlled clinical trials " rather than "Re: Session 4: Special Issues in Pharmaceutical Marketing ". A descriptive subject will help everyone follow the thread and make it easy to identify each message.

Scroll down to see the text of the message you are replying to. You can copy-and-paste some of the text into your reply if you want to.

message reply window

When you are ready, click on the "Submit" button to post your reply. Alternatively, click on the "Preview" button to read through your message before you post it and check that it is readable and makes good sense!

Tips on writing effective messages

  • keep them brief – no one wants to read lengthy messages
  • write clearly and pay attention to spelling – this is academic work
  • tie personal experiences to the concepts being studied, giving an orderly, brief version of the experience, with a point that is stated clearly
  • incorporate ideas shared by others and the instructor to create a "fuller picture" of the concepts under review
  • criticize the idea, not the person! Be constructive and offer your alternative ideas
  • be aware that jokes and irony can easily be misunderstood and cause offense
  • contact your instructor by email if a message upsets you
  • you may wish to compose your messages in a word processor, spell-check the text and then copy-and-paste it to Blackboard

Starting a new thread

Don’t start a new thread if your message would be better as a reply to an existing message.

Always give your message a clear, concise subject so that it is easy to see what the topic of your new thread is.

creating a new message thread

You instructor may have decided that you cannot start new threads in some discussion forums – but you can reply to threads started by your instructor.

Click the "Add New Thread" button to start a new thread, then click on "Submit" or "Preview" when you are ready to post your message.

Come back several times a week to see if anyone has replied – but everyone is busy, so don’t be too disappointed if they haven’t. Even your instructor may only check the forum once a week – and won’t respond to every message!

Sorting the list of messages

sorting blackboard messages

By default, the list of messages is organized by thread, which groups all the messages about a topic. If you scroll to the end of the list you can use the "Sort By" control to choose to sort the messages by author, date or subject instead.

"Sort by author" to quickly find and review all the messages by a particular person – remember to also select view all messages if you want to see every message by that person – not just the unread ones.

"Sort by date" to see a simple list of messages from oldest to newest – if you also select view unread messages this is a simple way to review all new messages, especially if you get a bit confused when trying to follow threads.

Searching messages using keywords

opening blackboard search tool

You can easily find all the messages in a discussion forum that match the search options you specify – such as author and/or keywords. Click the "Search" button to enter your search options.

You can restrict your keyword search to the messages’ subject lines or to a single author if you wish. You can enter one or more keywords and specify whether any or all of them are required.

Note the checkbox to expand the text of the messages on a single screen – this is really convenient. Once you have specified your search options click the "Submit" button to search this forum for your keyword(s).

threaded discussion advanced search tool

The results page tells you how many messages match your search options and contains links to the messages so you can read other messages in their threads.

Note that the keyword is highlighted every time it appears in the text.

A "Search" button at the top of the results page enables you to redefine your search options if necessary. Buttons at the foot of the screen enable you to see further messages if there are too many to fit on a single screen.

You can select all the messages’ text and copy-and-paste it to a Word document to work with it ‘offline’ – this procedure is described later in this guide.

Selecting and collecting messages

You can select several messages and then view them on a single screen that makes it easy to cut-and-paste them to your word processor. You can then save or print them for later use ‘offline’.

show options tab

Click the SHOW OPTIONS tab to view the control bar. You will probably also need to click the EXPAND ALL button to see all the messages you want. Click the checkbox to the left of each message that you want to copy.

threaded discussion expand all button

Note the buttons on the control bar that can be used to help you select messages or change their status to read or unread. Click the COLLECT button to display all the selected messages on a single screen.

Copying and pasting messages to Word

copy threaded discussion messageRight-click on the page and pick "Select All" from the pop-up menu to select all the text, then right-click again and select "Copy" from the pop-up menu.

paste threaded message into Word

Switch to Word and select "Paste Special" from the "Edit" menu – note that if you just select "Paste", all of the text will be in tables and is difficult to edit or reformat. Select the "Unformatted Text" option and click [OK]. You should save the Word file immediately before editing and reformatting the text as required.


This entry was posted on April 11, 2006 by in Blackboard 8.

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