Creating and Managing Discussion Boards

Contents

Video Tutorial

Discussion Boards are a tool with many different settings and options. This 15-minute video covers the uses of discussion boards, how they are created, accessed and used by students, and assessed by instructors.

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Overview

Whether you are teaching a face-to-face, fully online, or hybrid course, the Discussion Boards in Blackboard provide an essential tool for communication–between peers and between students and instructors. Discussion Boards can be used for a host of different functions in your course, including:

  • An online meeting place for social interaction among students.
  • A place for students to pose questions about homework assignments, readings, and course content, which can be answered either by other students, or an instructor.
  • A venue for students to start and participate in their own peer-to-peer discussions based on course content.
  • A forum for instructors to start and lead focused discussions, providing students an opportunity to demonstrate deep understanding of the topic.

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Creating Forums and Threads

Just as it is critical to plan and structure your course content, you need to provide structure for online discussions.

The main discussion board page displays a list of forums. A forum is an area where participants discuss a topic or a group of related topics. Within each forum, participants can create multiple threads. A thread includes the initial post and all replies to it. Replies are nested, and participants can reply to a reply as well as reply to the initial post.

Discussions appear sequentially so all course members can follow the conversation.

 

A chart of the structure of discussion boards, forums and threads in Blackboard

You as the instructor of the course create the various discussion forums, name them, and give them the settings you desire. Who then creates the threads inside each forum is up to you. You can set up a forum where students create each thread (for example, you set up a forum with the instruction for students to each start a thread about the topic of the presentation they just gave last week, and all other students in the course can ask engage in discussions of those topics with their peers inside each thread). Or, you can set up a forum in which only the instructor and TAs have the ability to begin discussion threads (for example, if you want to have a weekly discussion on a topic that you have selected, you would start the thread each week with an opening post introducing the topic, and then the students would enter that thread and post their responses.)

Step 1: Create a Forum

  1. Access the discussion board and click Create Forum on the action bar.
  2. On the Create Forum page, type a name and optional instructions or a description. On the main discussion board page, the description follows the forum name.
  3. In the Forum Availability section, click Yes.You can create forums ahead of time and set the availability to No until the discussion is ready to start.
  4. Select the Display After and Display Until check boxes to enable the date and time selections. Display restrictions do not affect the forum availability, only when it appears.
  5. Select the Forum Settings based on your specific needs. (See the above video tutorial, or below for an in-depth explanation of all of the forum settings.)

Step 1a: Forum Settings

A screenshot of the Blackboard forum settings

  1. Viewing Threads/Replies Settings
    Standard View will allow students to enter the forum and see all threads immediately. This is the preferred setting in forums where the instructor will start off all discussion threads.The second option requires students to start a thread of their own before seeing the threads any other students have started. This is an excellent option to foster student engagement in a forum in which the discussion is to be student-led.
  2. Grade Settings
    Like all communication tools in Blackboard, forum activity can be graded. You can give grades on a whole-forum level (students will receive a single grade for all activity in the entire forum) or on a per-thread level, where students will receive a different grade for each thread. There is no option to grade students on a per-post basis.
  3. Subscription Settings
    Allowing members (keep in mind that you as the instructor are also a member) to subscribe to either threads or entire forums displays a button in the forum for participants to click if they with to subscribe. Subscribing will send an email every time there is a new post. You can allow members to subscribe either to the entire forum as a whole or to just particular threads of special interest to them.
  4. Create and Edit Settings
    These settings control how students will be able to post inside the forum, and whether or not they will be able to edit or delete those posts after they have posted them.
    Allow Anonymous Posts means that students can post to the forum anonymously. This has its up and down sides–shy students might be more likely to post, but there’s also the possibility for anonymity leading to inappropriate behavior. You also cannot grade a forum in which anonymous posting is enabled.
    Allow Author to Delete/Edit Own Posts mean that after a student posts they would be able to either significantly edit or delete entirely what they have posted. Again, while this may be a desired feature for your forum, there are also implications to allowing students to “take back” what they have said in a discussion forum.
    Allow Members to Create New Threads means that students would create their own discussion threads. This is appropriate for forums in which students will be driving the discussion, but inappropriate for forums in which the instructor wishes to begin all discussion on a set topic.
    Allow File Attachments allows participants to upload a file in addition to their post.
    Allow Users to Reply with a Quote allows members to quote the post they are replying to when they  make their reply, so readers can see exactly what they are responding to. This setting aids in the readability of discussion threads.
    Force Moderation of Posts means that a moderator (a user with an Instructor or TA role) must approve every post made before other students can see it. This might be an appropriate setting for forums where discussion may become heated or inappropriate, or a Course Q&A typed forum where students may accidentally post confidential information such as their grade or a test answer.
  5. Additional Options
    Allow Post Tagging allows an instructor to apply “tags” or category labels to posts. Students would then have the ability to search these tags to find all posts that have already been made that have that tag. This could be an appropriate setting for a Course Q&A forum so that students can search and see if any posts have already been made about the question they have, and if so, if an answer was already given.
    Allow Members to Rate Posts just gives all members a star-rating system in which to rate the quality of posts. This could be used as part of a peer evaluation system.

Step 2: Create a Thread

Now that you’ve created a discussion forum, it’s time to create a thread–or not, if you are leaving it up to students to create each discussion thread. But if you are going to create instructor-led threads, here’s how:

  1. Access a discussion board forum.
  2. On the action bar, click Create Thread. Create Thread button
  3. On the Create Thread page, type a subject, and instructions, a description, or a question.
  4. You may also attach a file using the Attachments section.
  5. Click Submit.

Step 3: Create a Discussion Board or Forum Access Link

Your students will need a way to access the Discussion Board page, or the specific forum you want them to use.

The default new course shell template includes a Discussion Board tool link in the Course Menu. This link is set as “hidden” from students. To unhide it, click the down-arrow and select “Show Link.”

Screenshot of DIscussion Board course tool link being unhidden

If you need to add a new tool link for your Discussion Boards, please see these instructions on adding links to your Course Menu.

If you would like to add a link to a specific discussion forum to a content area of your course, follow these instructions:

 

  1. Enter the content area you would like to add the link to.
  2. On the action bar, point to Tools and click Discussion Board.
  3. On the Create Link: Discussion Board page, click Select a Discussion Board Forum and select the desired forum from the list.
  4. Click Next.
  5. On the next page, either keep the link name that is already filled in (it will be the same as the name of the forum) or type in a new one.
  6. Optionally, type instructions or a description in the Text box.
  7. Click Submit. The discussion link appears in the course area.

 

Managing Discussion Forums

Depending on a Discussion Forum’s various settings, an instructor, TA or other designated user will need to grade, moderate, participate in, or otherwise manage the activity in a discussion forum or some of its threads. There are many tools available to you with the Discussion Boards area to help accomplish these tasks.

Grading

On the Grade Discussion Forum page, a collection of the student’s posts made to the graded forum appears. Since you can assign a forum grade based on multiple threads, all messages posted by a student are included for review.

On the action bar, click Print Preview to open the page in a new window in a printer-friendly format. Posts print in the order they appear on the page. To select which posts appear and in which order, you can filter and sort posts using the Filter function and the Sort By and Order drop-down lists on the action bar.

discussion_inline_grading

The grading sidebar contains:

  • Forum Statistics: Click to access the drop-down area that includes information about a user’s posts, such as Total Posts, Date of Last Post, Average Post Length, and Average Post Position.
  • Click the down-pointing arrow next to the current user’s name to view a list and select a user with posts ready to grade. The selected user’s posts appear in the content frame. Use the left- and right-pointing arrows to navigate to the previous or next student.
  • Area to add grade, feedback, and private notes for yourself.

In the content frame, evaluate the currently selected user’s posts. In the grading sidebar, type a grade. If you added a rubric for this forum, expand and complete the rubric. To edit an existing grade, click in the Grade box and change the grade.

Optionally, type Feedback for the user. In the Add Notes section, make notes that appear only to you (forum manager) and the grader role. You can use the spell check function in the bottom of each text box. The icon for Click to open full content editor gives you access to all the content editor functions for formatting text and adding files, images, web links, multimedia and mashups to your feedback or notes.

Click Submit to add the grade, feedback, and grading notes to the Grade Center. The grade appears on the Grade Discussion Forum Users page.

discussion_forum_grade_appears

Grading Group Discussions

If you want to grade participation in a group discussion board, you can edit a forum’s settings and enable grading in the forum or threads. Unlike other graded group activities, when a group discussion board is set to graded, each member is graded independently of other group members. Each group member must make the designated number of posts to earn his or her own grade.

To learn how to enable grading for group discussions, see How to Edit Settings for Group Discussions.

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Moderation

Moderation means that someone with a forum manager or moderator status (by default assigned to those with Instructor and TA user roles, but can be granted to other uses, see below) reads each post before it is published to the forum for all to see. The moderator either approves the post, in which case it is published, or returns the post to the original author. If the post is returned, it is not published for any other users to view.

How to Moderate Posts

  1. Access the forum. On the action bar, click Moderate Forum.

    Moderate Discussion Action Bar

    The Moderate Forum function appears only to those users who have a forum role of manager or moderator. In the student view, the author can see the post in Tree View with a reminder it is in the moderation queue.

  2. On the Moderation Queue page, the posts appear in alphabetical order by title. Click the column title to sort by post title, author, or date. To review a post, click Moderate.

    Discussion Moderation Queue Page

  3. On the Moderate Post page, read the post and click Publish or Return. Published messages are immediately posted to the thread.
  4. Optionally, type feedback in the text box. Though feedback is optional, this is an opportunity to provide guidance, ask questions, redirect a student’s focus, and explain why a post was returned.
  5. Click Submit.

Returned posts no longer appear in the moderation queue.

From the thread page, students can edit their posts while viewing the moderator’s feedback and resubmit them. The posts are returned to the moderation queue. Moderation Queue appears next to the post’s title.

About Forum Roles

You can assign forum roles to limit access to a forum or to help with forum administration. For example, to help control the discussion board content that is presented to your students, you can assign a responsible user the role of moderator.

In a forum, each user has a forum role and can have only one role per forum. By default, instructors have the role of manager and students have the role of participant. When you are logged in as an instructor, you cannot change your own forum role.

The following table describes the forum roles and their permissions.

 
Role Permissions
Manager Managers have full control over a forum and can change forum settings, moderate posts, and assign roles and grades.Users with a course role of instructor or teaching assistant are granted this role by default.
Builder Course builders can edit, copy, and delete forums, but not grade or manage forums. Inside a forum, a course builder can perform the same actions on posts as an instructor, with the exception of grading threads.Course builders can also create new threads in a forum, and can enable grading for a thread and type a value.Users with a course role of course builder are granted this forum role by default.
Moderator Moderators can delete, edit, and lock all posts in any forum, even if the forum does not use the moderation queue.If you use a moderation queue, the moderator approves or rejects posts in the queue before they are made available to all users.Users with a course role of instructor or course builder are granted this forum role by default.
Grader Graders can read, reply to, and grade posts. The grader role has some access to the Grade Center, but cannot assign grades to their own work.Users with a course role of grader are granted this forum role by default.
Participant Participants can read and reply to posts.Users with a course role of student are granted this role by default.
Reader Readers can read the contents of a forum, but cannot post responses or add threads.
Blocked Blocked users cannot access the forum.

How to Assign Forum Roles

  1. Access a forum’s contextual menu and click Manage.
  2. On the Manage Forum Users page, a list of users appears. Access a user’s contextual menu.If you want to show only one role at a time, make a selection in the Display Forum Role drop-down list on the action bar and click Go.
  3. Select a new forum role. The new role appears in the Forum Role column for the user.
  4. Click OK to return to the discussion board. Alternatively, click the forum title on the orientation bar to return to the forum.To change multiple roles at one time, select the users’ check boxes and point to Edit Role on the action bar. Select the check box in the header row to select all users.

    Discussion Forum role

Participating in a Thread

You as the instructor or TA can freely participate in discussion forums alongside your students.

When you view the thread page, all posts and the thread description appear on one page. Thread descriptions are often used as prompts for discussion, so they are now visible where users are posting. Large images of course members help you easily identify authors.

To help make replying easy, the content editor appears immediately below the message you are replying to.

Discussion Thread Features

  1. Use Expand All and Collapse All to manage the visibility of posts on the page.
  2. Move your mouse pointer anywhere on the page and action bar functions appear at the top, such as Search and Refresh.
  3. Click the number of unread posts to view a page containing only the unread posts in a thread.
  4. When viewing threads, a badge appears next to a forum manager or moderator’s name. Point to the badge to see the user’s course role and forum role. If your institution has custom roles, they are displayed. Role highlighting is available only in the discussion board.
  5. View dates for posts, which appear as relative dates, such as “7 days ago.” When you point to the relative date, you can view the absolute date of creation or editing, and the number of views.
  6. Mark posts as read as you scroll down the page, after a slight delay. Blue icon = unread. White icon = read. Only expanded posts that you view onscreen are marked as read. Posts are not automatically marked read by quickly scrolling down the page. Click the icon to manually change the status of a message. You can also flag posts you want to review again later or indicate as important.
  7. Point to a post to see Reply, Quote, Expand/Collapse, and other available functions. Click Collapse to fold up a post. This increases the vertical screen space available for viewing posts.
  8. If you enabled the rate posts feature in a forum’s settings, view the Overall Rating for the average rating for a post. When you point to the rating area, it changes to show Your Rating.

How to Reply to a Post

Users can reply to published threads, but cannot reply to locked or hidden threads.

  1. Access a forum and select a thread.
  2. On the thread’s page, you can view the text of the post and information, such as the author and posted date. All replies appear on the same page with the parent post.
  3. For the first post, click Reply. Point to the post to see other functions such as Quote, Edit, Delete, and Email Author. The Quote function includes the post’s text as part of your reply. For other posts on the page, point to the message and Reply and the other functions appear.

    Reply to Discussion Thread

    If you want to view only the unread posts in the thread, click the unread link on the action bar. The unread posts appear on one page.

  4. The page expands below the post you are responding to, allowing you to view the post and access the content editor.
  5. If needed, edit the Subject. Type your reply in the Message box. Files uploaded by students are not saved to Course Files or the Content Collection.

    Reply to Discussion Thread

  6. Alternatively, following the Message box, attach a file:
    • To upload a file from your computer, click Browse My Computer.
    • To upload a file from the course’s storage repository:
      • If Course Files is the course’s storage repository, click Browse Course.-OR-
      • If your institution licenses content management, click Browse Content Collection.
  7. Click Save Draft to store a draft of the post or click Submit to publish your reply.

On the thread page, your reply appears at the end of the list. If you attached a file, a paper clip icon appears next to the post’s title. If you used the Insert/Edit Image function, the image appears with the text.

Discussion Thread Reply Appears

How to Delete Forums and Threads

When you delete a forum or thread, all content is permanently deleted. You will not be able to refer to the posts if a student wants to dispute a grade. For a less permanent solution, you can make a forum unavailable.

When you delete graded discussion content, you determine if the Grade Center column and scores are also deleted.

  1. Access a forum or thread’s contextual menu and click Delete to permanently delete the forum or thread’s content.
  2. Click OK in the pop-up window.
  3. On the Delete Confirmation page, you have two options:
    • Do not select check boxes: The graded forum or thread will be deleted, but the Grade Center column and scores you assigned are retained. For example, you graded all students’ posts and want to keep the Grade Center column for the final grade calculations. If you delete the forum or thread, yet retain the Grade Center column, you can delete that column from the Grade Center at any time.
    • Select the check boxes: The grade column in the Grade Center and the forum or thread are deleted. For example, if you do not want to include the grade column for the discussion posts in the final grade, you can safely delete both.
  4. Click Remove.
    Discussion Delete

How to Delete Individual Posts

On a thread’s page, you can delete individual posts within a thread using the Delete function. This action is irreversible. Any replies to the post you are deleting will also be permanently deleted.

Delete Thread