Building engagement in an online course isn’t always easy. Students have many reasons to walk away or not engage, most of which we will never know. This, more than any other reason, is why it’s so important to design engaging work. Discussion board challenges are specifically designed to engage students with the learning.
This is the third post on discussion boards and is the last in this short series. The first post is an excerpt from my ebook Course Creation Made Easy: 25 Activities to Engage Your Online Learners. The video and podcast are a conversation on the topic. The second post goes into the value of open-ended questions on the discussion board. I recommend you visit those to get the full discussion board… well, discussion.
What are discussion board challenges?
Discussion board challenges are activities designed to allow the student to practice what they are learning, engage more deeply with the content, and connect with their community of learners.
The best way to understand what challenges might look like is to give some examples.
In a social media management course, a challenge could be for students to develop and post a mock social media calendar for a week. This gives them the opportunity to practice designing and developing a calendar themselves and gives them a way to get feedback on what they are doing.
In a photography course, students could post 10 images a week as a regular challenge. This gets students taking photographs regularly and it allows them to be inspired by and learn from other students’ challenge posts.
If it’s a writing course, students can post 2-3 pages of a manuscript each week.
If you’re teaching a leadership class, a regular challenge could be to find a quote that applies to the week’s learning. They can post the quote and their reflection on how it connects to the learning and to themselves.
You can see from the examples how challenges might work. There are countless challenge possibilities
What can discussion board challenges add to my course?
Challenges provide focused practice. They allow the students to dig into what they are learning and apply it to make sure they really understand.
They allow students to challenge themselves and to learn from each other. You need to encourage discussion on these challenges, always. Discussion is where the learning actually happens. It gives you insight into your students’ thinking and allows you to meet their needs. They may not know their needs specifically, but you can see by their discussions where misconceptions and gaps in learning might be.
Challenges should always move the learning forward in some way. If a challenge doesn’t, then you run the risk of students seeing the challenges as not worthy of their time and effort. If it’s not clear what the learning value of a challenge is, you need to rethink whether it belongs in the course.
Since challenge responses are posted on the discussion board for all students to see, they provide a connection point for students. Students will browse through others’ responses to see how their own work compares. And this is a fantastic opportunity to teach students how to provide good feedback. We’ll get into that a little later in the post.
Consistency Creates Structure
Using regular challenges in your course gives your students a sense of structure. You can keep the challenges the same from week to week and adjust the focus to match what you’re learning.
For example, in the social media marketing course, you might focus on hashtag research and use. The challenge will still be to create a mock social media calendar for the week, but the calendar can be designed around the hashtag research. It can include a short explanation of design choices and how they apply to the hashtag lesson.
You can still use challenges for structure even if you don’t do the same challenge each week. Having regular challenges still provides a sense of consistency. I would recommend listing the challenges for the entire course at the beginning of the course, though. Students are fitting your course into the crevices of their schedules, so it’s important to respect that. You don’t want to give them a challenge on short notice with a deadline. If it doesn’t fit in their schedule that week, they may choose to not participate. And once you don’t participate, it’s a lot easier to keep not participating.
Giving them a heads up about what the challenges will be each week will give students a chance to think about the lessons. They can make connections with the world around them and file away tidbits or artifacts they think they might use in an upcoming challenge.
Why is teaching feedback so important?
One of the hardest things for students to do is to give good feedback.
Part of your job as the instructor is to teach them, model for them, and encourage them to give good feedback. It might be helpful if you give them a checklist for feedback or some steps to follow to determine what good feedback would be.
If you can get students to a position where they feel like, “I do have something to say about this person’s work that could help them improve!” and they are able to express that, then you have given them a valuable tool. Not only does it help them help others, but it also helps them evaluate themselves.
It’s really hard to look at your own work and figure out what needs improving. We’re just too close to it. Understanding how to step back and look at work objectively is a super-valuable tool that you can give to your students
Now it’s time for you to try it. Think about your course. Come up with three challenges that could potentially fit in your course. Remember the challenge needs to move the learning forward, help the student practice without being busy work, and be engaging enough that students want to do it.
But that’s not all. For each challenge, list the things that the students will be practicing if they complete the challenge. And list some possible things that students might give feedback on. You know the material and you know where students are likely to need growth. This part of the assignment helps you think about how you will coach your students to give the right kind of feedback for the situation.
Once you have your three challenges, choose one and post it in the comments of the YouTube video, Ep 5 Discussion Board 3 Challenges. Browse through the comments to see what others wrote. Ask questions, provide feedback, or offer kudos. Join the community conversation.
If you’re just getting started creating your online course, check out How To Write Goals, Objectives, And Outcomes For Your Online Course
If you want to know more about learning activities in general, read Why Are Learning Activities Important?
Download my free ebook Online Course Creation Made Easy: 25 Activities to Engage Your Online Learners.