Discussion Boards, Forums, and Threads (Faculty)

The most common form of interaction in an online course is through the discussion board using forums started by an instructor. Participation and interaction in the discussion board does not occur naturally. It must be intentionally designed it into courses. To encourage engaging, quality discussion, craft discussion questions carefully and create inquiry.

To encourage participation, consider allowing students to post anonymously or create new threads. This flexibility may encourage members to post their ideas and questions. Incentive can also be provided by grading the discussion or adding exam questions based on discussion content.

Discussion Board Structure


A forum is made up of threads and replies to those threads. The forum description is used to explain guidelines for the discussion and describe the general topic.


Threads are added by students and instructors to start new topics. The instructor launches the discussion by posting an initial thread. The essential question that begins a discussion needs to be open-ended, thought provoking, and deep enough to allow students to synthesize and analyze course content in their subsequent discussion.


Discussion participants use the Reply button to respond to the thread questions, or to reply to each other's replies. These replies are called ‘posts’. Listed posts are indented, according to which post was being read when the reply button was used.

Develop Successful Online Discussions

Help students feel comfortable and provide them with guidelines as they begin to use the discussion board.  Here are four general steps to developing successful online discussions to help build community and fulfill assignments.

1. Define participation requirements.

  • Share expectations. Create a forum where students can read about etiquette and access grading information.
  • Model proper online interaction and reinforce appropriate behavior with public recognition.

2. Craft an effective question.

  • Incorporate multimedia resources into questions to reduce the monotony of purely text-based interactions. With the popularity of services like YouTube™, students can be asked to view a clip and asked for responses.
  • Use the mashups feature to include images, videos, and slide presentations to questions. Students can also add mashups to replies.

3. Encourage new ideas.

  • If discussion posts contain too much agreement and not enough questioning of ideas, try assigning students with the last names A–M to support one side and N–Z to support the other.

4. Moderate.  

  • The instructor's presence should be established by asking for clarification, resources, or input from silent participants.

Suggestions for Forum Settings

Forum settings allow the instructor to use the discussion board in different ways. For example, to fully control a forum, the instructor should create all threads, moderate, and grade the posts. For a student-led discussion, allow students to create new threads and posts anonymously.

Here are some of the ways to control the behavior of forums in a discussion board:

  • Promote originality and a variety of ideas. Forums can be created as "post first" where students are asked to respond before they can read and reply to their classmates' posts.

  • Create effective social forums. Allow students to post anonymously and without worrying about a grade. Allowing students to post anonymously is important at the beginning of a course to allow comfort with discussions.

  • Monitor quality and behavior. Assign a moderator to review each post before making it public.

  • Allow students to control the discussion. Allow students to edit, delete, and rate posts. Instructors can also allow students to create new threads and direct the discussion.

  • Have a tightly controlled forum and use it to evaluate student performance. Select the grading and moderating options. To be sure students focus on the existing threads, don't allow the creation of new threads.

  • Allow authors to edit their published posts. Consider locking the thread after grading. Users can't change locked posts.

Some settings can't be selected in combination. For example, if forums or threads are being graded, anonymous posts are not allowed. Also, if thread grading is enabled, members can't create new threads.

The discussion board is commonly accessed from the course menu, although links can be created in other course areas, such as in a content area.

The Discussion Board page contains a list of all the forums that have been created. One or more forums must be created before users can start message threads.

On the Discussion Board page, forums can be created and searched for discussion board content. By default, the search field appears collapsed to save screen space.

  • To sort the list based on a column, select the column heading.

  • To view the posts within a forum, select the forum title. Forum titles in bold contain unread posts.

  • For each forum, view the total number of posts, the number of unread posts, and the number of participants. For quick access to the forum's unread messages, select the link in the Unread Posts column.

Forum Page
When accessing a forum, a list of threads appears.

 Screenshot of a list of threads

  1. When possible, use the orientation bar to navigate to a previous page. Using the back function on the browser may create page load errors.

  2. Within a forum, instructors can create threads, grade forum contributions, collect threads, and search content.

  3. Use the check boxes to select one or more thread and perform actions such as Collect or Delete.

  4. Select a thread title to read the posts. Titles in bold contain unread posts.

  5. View a forum's threads in a list view or in a tree view, with all posts listed following each thread  

Thread Page
When viewing a thread, all posts and the thread description appear on one page. Thread descriptions can be used to prompt users to participate in the discussion. Each author's profile picture accompanies their post to help easily identify authors.

Screenshot showing threads and their author's profile pictures 

To help make replying easy, the content editor appears immediately below the message being replied to. Any post on the page can be referred to while a reply is being typed.

  1. Use Expand All and Collapse All to manage the visibility of posts on the page.

  2. Move the mouse anywhere on the page and functions appear at the top, such as Search and Refresh.

  3. Select the number of unread posts to view only those posts in a thread. Use the arrow buttons to navigate to other threads in the forum.

  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. Custom roles are displayed if your institution uses them.

  5. View relative dates for posts, such as "7 days ago." When pointing to the relative date, the absolute date of creation or editing can be viewed, along with the number of views.

  6. Mark posts as read or unread. Blue icon = unread. White icon = read. Only expanded posts viewed onscreen are marked as read. Posts are not automatically marked read by quickly scrolling down the page. Select the icon to manually change the status of a message. Posts can also be flagged to review again later or indicate as important.

  7. Point to a post to see Reply, Quote, Expand/Collapse, and other available functions. Select Collapse to minimize a post. This increases the vertical screen space available for viewing posts.

  8. If the rate posts feature was enabled in a forum's settings, Overall Rating displays the average rating for a post. Pointing to the rating area causes it to change to show Your Rating.

Access the Discussion Board

under the practice course section, discussion board is highlighted and forum test discussion board is highlighted

Allow users access to the discussion board in several ways. Add a customized link to the course menu and to a course area. When providing a link to the discussion board in a course area, students can access the tool alongside other course content.

As an instructor, on the Control Panel, expand the Course Tools section and select Discussion Board. From this link, access the course discussion board and the group discussion boards for the groups in a course.

Add a Discussion Link on the Course Menu

A link can be included on the course menu for instant access to the discussions tool. The name of the link can be customized.

select add menu item icon in upper left and then tool link

  1. Point to the plus sign above the course menu. The Add Menu Item drop-down list appears.

  2. Select Tool Link.

  3. Type a Name for the link.

  4. From the Type drop-down list, select Discussion Board.

  5. Select the Available to Users check box.

plus sign and tool link are highlighted. In the add tool link section, the "available to users" checkbox is checked

  1. Select Submit.

The new tool link appears last in the course menu list. Press and drag the arrows icon to move the link into a new position. In the link's menu, the link can be renamed, deleted, or hidden from students.

Add a Discussion Link in a Course Area

Discussion boards can be incorporated into course areas, allowing students to access the tool alongside content.

In a content area, add a forum link following lecture notes to gather questions on the material presented or after an assignment to gather students' perceptions on how they did. Adaptive release rules or date availability restrictions to limit students' access can be added. This allows access to content in a specified order, such as reading a PDF before adding posts to the discussion board.

1. Access the content area or folder in which to add the link to the discussion board or forum.

2. Point to Tools and select Discussion Board.

From here, there are three options:

  • On the Create Link: Discussion Board page, select the Link to Discussion Board Page option to link to the discussion board itself.
  • Use Select a Discussion Board Forum and select a forum from the list.
  • Select Create New Forum to add a link to a forum created at this time. Select all forum settings at the time of creation. The newly created forum appears in the list of forums to choose from when adding the link in a course.

3. Select Next.

On the next Create Link: Discussion Board page, type a Link Name. The Link Name cannot exceed 50 characters.

Optionally, type instructions or a description in the Text box. For the Available option, select Yes.

To enable tracking, select Yes. The system will record the number of times the link is viewed, when it is viewed, and by whom.

Select the Display After and Display Until check boxes to enable the date and time selections.

4. Display restrictions affect the visibility of the discussion board or forum.

Select Submit. The discussion link appears in the course area.


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Article ID: 44972
Thu 12/14/17 4:59 PM
Wed 3/13/19 8:13 AM