Whether you are a seasoned distance learner or are taking your very first online class, the online class discussion (also known as online bulletin board or message forum) is central to your online learning experience.
It's not just a place to hang out, it's also a place where you can share information with others and most importantly get help. So, you need to create stellar postings if you really want to make an impression or ace the course.
What do you do to make your discussion postings worthy of an A+?
Recognize the purpose of discussion postings.
In the classroom, students and professors hold discussions about the subject matter. Discussion postings duplicate this interaction when you are online. In the virtual classroom, you use the keyboard instead of your voice.
(Hint: Make sure you keep a discussion tone about your writing — it's not another paper.)
Before writing a single word, make sure you have prepared yourself by doing any course work required — reading, assignments, research, etc.
(Hint: Reading and reflecting is what learning is all about and no one wants to read a post that rambles on and doesn't have a point, just like no one wants to hear a story like that in class.)
Read the discussion posting directions carefully.
What is it you are being asked to comment on? Make sure you know what you are supposed to write about. Sometimes it is a personal response, sometimes it is a chance to absorb the material by restating the ideas presented in the reading, and sometimes the discussion board is a combination of ideas.
(Hint: Read all the related discussion questions before you start the reading and other assignments, that way the topic will be on your mind when you are studying.)
Think about your point.
What is it you want to say to your fellow classmates and your professor? Try to limit yourself to the topic and make sure your point is relevant. An "A+" posting will make that connection between the theories and ideas and real life.
(Hint: You can always e-mail your professor for clarification if you don't understand something, just do it early enough to get the post in on time.)
Gather your references.
Make sure to cite your references in your posting. Even if it is a discussion posting, not giving others credit for their work is plagiarism, so cite your source. Your citation doesn't have to be formal, just make sure others can find the information from the citation; give the title, author, and date.
References also helps forum members better answer your questions, as they can clearly see where your coming from.
(Hint: Have your references handy when you write your post, so it doesn't break your train of thought or slow you down.)
Write out your response.
Use the tools in your course management system to write your response, make special use of the preview tool and the spell checker.
(Hint: If you don't have those tools or are uncomfortable using them, use your favorite word processing software or text editor, like Microsoft Word, and then copy and paste (<Ctrl-C> and <Ctrl-V>) your posting to the discussion board.)
Follow the rules of discussion postings.
If you are supposed to write a response to the question and respond to other postings, make sure you do that and do it well (see number 8). To select the best posting to respond to, think about the classroom environment — if somebody said that in class, would you respond? If so, go for it. If not, move to the next posting.
(Hint: Most courses have rules for discussions in the syllabus or course introduction; make sure to read these before writing that first post.)
Give meaning to your posts.
Don't ever write only "I agree" or "Good thought" or any other short response to another posting. Be sure to include details. For example: "I agree with Brian" is much different than "I agree with Brian. I had a similar experience where Theory XYZ came into play…" and the second one will get you a much better grade than the first.
(Hint: Remember that it's OK to disagree with a classmate's posting. But be polite if you disagree and make sure you explain why.)
Post on time.
Nothing is worse for a professor than reading through a lively set of discussion postings and finding the late ones at the bottom. It's like coming up to the professor after class to contribute your information. Remember, the early bird gets the worm (both on and offline)!
(Hint: If you are asked to post to a question and then respond to others do the first posting early and the responses towards the end of the time allotted for the assignment. You will be noticed if you start a good discussion.)
Express some of your self in the posting.
Sometimes a quick story makes a better point than a long ramble about the theory. Applying the class information to real life is what discussions are usually about. Sure, you took the quiz and know the information, but can you make the connections between real life and the information?
(Hint: If you follow suggestions one through nine, you will put some of yourself in the posting without having to think about it!)