How to Teach Students Discussion Forums

An Essential 21st Century Literacy

Discussion forums and threaded conversation are a basic digital literacy. I teach these using Reddit and the Wikispaces discussion forum. When students and teachers know how to communicate effectively in discussion forums, they make themselves able to join forums correctly. Often, when people join discussion forums who don't know how to use them, they make mistakes that get them shunned or even worse – flamed – by more expert users.

Discussion forums have been around a long time but I have found few schools who teach them.  Sites like Reddit and most technical support sites use this threaded discussion format. But it is easy to teach using wikispaces. Here's the video I use  to teach my students how to use discussion forums properly.

In this video, you'll notice a little trick of mine — add humor at the end. I'll know they have seen it if they say something or laugh. If they haven't, it is easy to know as well. An unlistened to video is as useless as a tuned out lecture. Make them short but give them something to look forward to at the end.

How to Use Discussion Forums

Key Points about Discussion Forums

Discussion forums are used to have conversations about topics. The topics can be specified by the web page that has the discussion “threads” or topics.
There are methods of having effective conversations on discussion forums. Some of the basic netiquette examples include:

Some of the basic netiquette examples include:

  • The thread or subject is the main topic of a discussion forum.
  • The page or subreddit topic is a larger topic that you need to relate to unless you want to have your conversation deleted for being off topic.
  • Respond to people by name to prevent confusion.
  • Remember that even if you use a pseudonym that it is pretty simple for people to track and figure out who posted things.
This is a simple one day lesson plan, but it is foundational. If students do not understand how to carry on an effective discussion, it makes it difficult to have them collaborate on a wiki, blog or any other way. Therefore, teaching discussion forums is one of the very first things you will want to do in a global collaborative project. You're setting students up for success when you teach them how to communicate.

PDF of the Assignment Page in the Learning Management System 

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