Discussion Board Reboot: Enhancing Dialogue Through Presentation and Reflection

Course: Principles of Management, MGT 301 

Department: Management 

Institution: Cleveland State University 

Instructor: Candice Vander Weerdt 

Syllabus: Principles of Management Syllabus

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: Two sections / 80 students; Upper-level undergraduate students 

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Blackboard Board LMS: Discussion Board, Tests, Wiki 

Author Bio: Candice Vander Weerdt is an Assistant College Lecturer in the Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University. She is the primary instructor of the Principles of Management course, with an annual enrollment of approximately 300 students. She has taught fully online courses for over 10 years at multiple institutions. Her research interests include LMS usage, course performance, open education resources, and Assurance of Learning measures.   

Attachments: Discussion Board Presentation Instructions 

Interaction amongst students and instructors within an online environment is a persistent problem for many online courses. The Blackboard learning management system (LMS) discussion board offers a tool for discussion and dialogue, however, use of the tool may be perfunctory for students (Howland & Moore, 2002) and time-consuming for instructors. Many students perceive online discussion as a chore, instead of an opportunity for learning. These students post comments on the final day of the assignment without much insight or reflection. If length requirements are enforced, then students are likely to focus on quantity and verbosity, sacrificing quality and meaningfulness.  

In general, grading discussion board assignments may be cumbersome and unfulfilling for instructors who are forced to grade unengaged comments without student consideration and effort. As an instructor, I struggle to provide appropriate guidelines that will encourage freedom of expression, while also eliciting substantial contribution to the discourse. Sometimes, comments are based on poorly supported opinions and fail to integrate the material from the course. In the end, I have found some of the discussion board assignments to be a poor substitute for the engaged class discussion on campus. 

 However, the challenges described above are not characteristic of the online environment. We know that meaningful interaction online is possible; we can see this daily on social media websites. The medium of an online discussion board allows introverted students, who may not regularly speak up in class, to participate in the conversation. Unstructured discussion allows for the free flow of ideas necessary to critical thinking through analysis, synthesis, and evaluation – the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956). Some argue the collaborative possibilities of online education have barely been cultivated (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) and others provide meaningful best practices for improving the assignment (Levine, 2007).  

In this essay, I propose a three-part alternative to the traditional discussion board assignment. The first requirement of the discussion board is that it must be student-led, through student-created presentations. Second, the discussion must include some level of individual autonomy to foster independence and curiosity. Finally, students must be afforded an opportunity to reflect on these discussions. I will describe each part in more detail throughout this essay. 


The first principle of the discussion board assignment is for the students to lead the discussion. Instead of posting an article for everyone to read and comment on, students choose a topic to present. This might involve presenting facts from a recent article related to a general topic in the course. It could also involve allowing students to argue a particular position within a controversial topic. The main criterion of the presentation portion of the assignment is that the student is afforded the freedom to choose what will be discussed based on the course material.  

Student engagement improves when students are learning about a topic they are interested in; when they can ask a question that is important to them (Bain, 2004). It is reasonable to assume that not every student will be passionate about each topic in the course (in fact, it is not even reasonable to assume the instructor will be passionate about every topic in a course). By allowing students to choose their own topic for discussion, the student may take ownership over the assignment and work hard to present the topic clearly and fairly.  

While specifications of the presentation may vary, I have found the best presentations are short and direct. This might involve providing a summary of the article, in terms of key facts, and discussion starters. I require presenters to create a short video presenting the material. Some students are wary of making their own videos. I like to post example videos, such as this one presenting the gig economy, or this one regarding parental benefits. I also obtained permission from previous students to use their videos as examples for future classes.  

There are several online (free) resources for creating an informational video. For example, Adobe Spark allows users to create a slideshow-like presentation that will play automatically. Powtoon allows users to add music and animated graphics to display information. A popular presentation tool, Prezi, allows for a video recording of the presentation with an option to include a recording of the speaker too. Each of these tools is briefly explained in the assignment instructions along with a detailed manual, complete with screenshots, describes how to upload a video to the LMS (PDF attached).  

I would not suggest requiring presentations by each student in every forum. Instead, I create a “Sign-up” wiki in the LMS at the beginning of the semester. Each student must enter their name under one of the general topics, or specific positions, in the first week of class. The due dates are prominently displayed on the wiki and the wiki is locked for editing after everyone has signed up. Please see the screenshot below as an example. 


A class discussion allows for a constructivist view of education. In this view, knowledge is constructed rather than acquired (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). Instead of students repeating facts from a textbook, the discussion allows students to provide their own experiences with the topic. While students present only once during the semester, each student is required to comment on every discussion board. I require two comments for each discussion board forum to earn full credit. Grading the discussion board posts is still very subjective and I do not use a specific rubric. I work to improve the quality of posts through promoting autonomy and rarity, as described below. 

Student autonomy is a valuable component of the discussion portion of the project as well. Students are not required to comment on every presentation, only twice per forum. In this way, students may choose the presentations in which to discuss. Students are encouraged to “subscribe” to presentations where they comment, which means they will be notified when someone responds to their post or comments in the same forum. Part of the presenter’s duties is to moderate a discussion and presenters must “circle back” throughout the week for full credit. Therefore, several comments are posted throughout the week.  

It is also important to avoid overwhelming students with discussion board assignments. More discussion does not equate to better discussion. The presentation aspect of the assignment aids to spread out discussion board assignments. In a typical semester, I only schedule 6 topic forums. This includes one week for presenters to create their presentation and post, and another week for discussion. It is helpful to explain the rarity of these assignments to students. I tell them, “We only have 6 weeks of discussion, please make it count!”. In this way, the discussion is more of a treat, rather than a chore.  


Reflection has long been a necessary component of learning (Kolb, 1984). Reflection allows students an opportunity to access tacit knowledge that they may not even be aware of and connect complex ideas from past actions and experience (Helyer, 2015). Furthermore, reflection requires students to retrieve the information from memory. This retrieval improves knowledge retention and allows further knowledge to be built upon this foundation (Larsen, London, & Emke, 2016).  

Reflection is also particularly important in an online learning environment. Chang (2019) studied the use of reflection in an online course and found reflection was helpful in creating community among the students. Student comments on other students’ work were encouraging and promoted a community among learners that is difficult to establish in a remote environment. Furthermore, he found that when reflection was the last step in a series of interrelated assignments, students connected the course work in the class with the applicative aspect of the knowledge.  

An opportunity for reflection is key to the effectiveness of the discussion board assignment. In the past, I have assigned “reflection journals,” where each student reflects on two topics of each forum. Credit is awarded for writing style, completeness, and personal insight. This assignment is described in the first week of class but is not submitted until the end of the course.  

I have also embedded exam questions eliciting reflection. I have three multi-chapter exams. One short-answer question on each exam includes the following: “Please reflect on the discussion board presentations. Describe one presentation where the position was different from your own. What was one piece of evidence that you found convincing? How will this affect your behavior or opinions after graduation.” 

Result & Conclusion 

Considerable advantages exist for this type of discussion board assignment. First, allowing students to choose their own topic improves intrinsic motivation and a sense of ownership. Presenters are rewarded for moderating the discussion and are likely to return several times during the week to view comments on their presentation. Additionally, interesting topics are presented, improving the course quality and keeping the material fresh. For example, in my Principles of Management course, one student presented an excellent article from the Wall Street Journal (Shellenbarger, 2019) describing generous bereavement policies. These policies were not part of my normal course material but were soon added for later sections. 

Second, grading the assignment is much more interesting. As students comment on each other’s presentations, they begin to feel comfortable engaging in the discussion. It is common to see “devil’s advocate” comments that are well received and further discussed. Some students who see someone has posted to their presentation will make a point to comment on the same student’s topic later. Connections are made with common interests and topics. 

Finally, the idea that the discussion board assignment is not “done” after the comments are due motivates students to read through the discussion. If students understand that a reflection question will be posted to the exam, or that they must write a reflection paragraph in their journal, then they are more likely to take time to read through other comments and consider convincing arguments. Some researchers have found students to be frequent readers, while not always frequent posters (Fung, 2004). The reflection aspect of this assignment allows for credit to be awarded for reviewing comments and arguments, while not necessarily commenting.  

I began using this type of assignment in 2018 and each semester I make adjustments as I encounter issues such as quality, confusion, and miscommunication. It is frightening, and uncomfortable, to relinquish control over the topics presented in the course. While allowing students to choose the topics, sometimes I find the article quality is very low and lacks specific facts we can discuss. Some students find the process of the assignment confusing and will present to several forums, or only comment on their presentation forum. Finally, others will misunderstand the expectations of the presentation and post a general video from YouTube instead of creating the video.  

Many of these issues can be fixed through clarification and prompt attention. First, I supply a list of acceptable news sources and specify that blog sources are strictly forbidden. I also explain how to identify key facts from an article and separate these from tips or suggestions. I provide a detailed rubric (below) awarding points for length and speed, style, organization of material, and interaction with audience. Finally, I pay close attention to first-posted presentations. Generally, if someone completes the assignment incorrectly, others may see this submission and follow the incorrect format. Likewise, well-made presentations serve as good examples for subsequent presenters. Prompt attention in the first discussion board forum pays dividends throughout the semester. 

Presentation Possible 
Support (three credible sources) 
Counter Argument 
Accurate, relevance, and clarity 
Logic and reasoning 
Length and Speed 
Style of video 
Organization of material 
Interacting with audience 
Total 25 
The rubric for discussion presentations

In closing, social interaction and discussion within an online class is not inherently doomed. Through the design of a layered assignment, including student freedom and autonomy, structured discussion, and an opportunity for reflection, we may promote the type of meaningful discussion necessary for higher learning.  



Bain, K. (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  

Bloom, B. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York 

Chang, B. (2019). Reflection in learning. Online Learning, 23(1), 95-110. 

Fung, Y. Y. H. (2004). Collaborative online learning: interaction patterns and limiting factors. Open Learning. 19(2), p. 135-149 

Garrison, D. R., and Anderson, T. E-Learning in the 21st Century. London: Routledge Falmer, 2003. 

Helyer, R. (2015). Learning through reflection: The critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL). Journal of Work-Applied Management, 7(1), 15-27. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003  

Howland, J.L. & Moore, J.L (2002) Student perceptions as distance learners in internet-based courses. Distance Learning 23(2) p. 183-195 

Kolb, D. A., (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs 

Larsen, D. P., London, D. A., & Emke, A. R. (2016). Using reflection to influence practice: Student perceptions of daily reflection in clinical education. Perspectives on Medical Education, 5(5), 285-291. doi:10.1007/s40037-016-0293-1 

Levine, S. J. (2007). The online discussion board. New directions for adult and continuing education, 2007(113), 67-74. 

Palloff, R. M., and Pratt, K. Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005 

Shellenbarger, S. (2019) Does your boss have our back when a loved one dies? Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/does-your-boss-have-your-back-when-a-loved-one-dies-11572255002 

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