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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Guide to Planning Online Courses – Part 9 of 11

Create Opportunities for Community Building

Enter the Blackboard Discussion Board, create a Forum, and post an introductory assignment. For example, you might ask each student to write on to three paragraphs explaining who they are and why they took your course. Require students to read entries from other students. You might also encourage them to respond to each other. This is the first step in creating an "online community" for your course.


Interaction isa very important part of learning, and it is especially integral to online learning. Notice that 40% of your grade is determined by Discussion Room participation and facilitation. I’ll be looking for you to make significant contributions to the discussion every week. You get points for answering questions, thoughtful responses, additional questions, useful Web finds, anything that moves the learning forward. This shouldn’t be the educational equivalent of spamming. Check in a couple of times a week, and don’t fall asleep at your computer. You also don’t want to leave the Discussion Room facilitator for the week twisting in the wind, so check to see if they have asked any questions and help them out. They’ll do the same for you when it is your turn.

The success of our discussion room is dependent on each student feeling comfortable to share their opinions, wrestle with ideas and concepts, and ask questions in a safe and supportive environment. As J. McKinley so aptly states: "A free exchange of ideas, opinions, and feelings is the lifeblood of collaborative learning." This is the class climate we wish to establish.

If you are not going to be able to participate for some reason, please let me know ahead of time by email or phone.

Tips for strengthening discussions

  • When introducing a new thought/concept/introduction, be sure to start by

Clicking "Add New Thread."

  • The subject line is important. When starting a new thread, make sure to create a subject line that both clues in the reader and catches the eye of the audience.
  • When replying to a posting, leave the "re:" position of the subject line, but feel free to edit the subject line to express how you are extending the conversation. This way everyone can get a quick glance at the direction of the conversation within a thread without actually opening each posting.
  • Provide an assessment rubric to the students that defines your expectations.

Plan on adding at least one new topic to the Discussion Board Forum each week. Make sure this topic requires students to formulate an answer and back it up with facts to demonstrate their understanding. Monitor and respond to student threads and encourage student to do the same.

Sample Discussion Posting

Should companies promote health economic information to USA employers?

Background & Instructions: In the USA a large portion of health insurance premiums for individuals under the age of 65 is paid for by employers. In an effort to manage premium increases, employers have formed healthcare employer coalitions and have implemented Health Enhancement, disease screening and similar programs. Should pharmaceutical companies allocate phase IV funding to support research and/or promotional activities with employers?  Team A should argue that employers are an important customer segment for whom limited research and promotional spending budgets should be allocated.  Team B should argue that limited research and promotional spend budgets should be allocated only to support activities directed toward patients, academic medical centers and managed markets customers.  Please support your posting with examples of successful or unsuccessful collaborations between employers and pharmaceutical companies or with examples of work productivity messages.

Resources & Tools


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This entry was posted on April 25, 2006 by in Distance Education.

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