Discussions, or discussion forums, foster interaction among your students and between students and course staff. You can set up different topics to guide these interactions when you create your course, and then run and moderate discussions throughout the course to encourage participation and develop course community.
Discussions are also excellent sources of feedback and ideas for the future.
For options you can use to run and moderate discussions, see the following sections:
For information about how enabling the cohort feature for a course affects options for moderating course discussions, see Managing Discussions in Courses with Student Cohorts.
Students and staff use course discussions to share ideas, exchange views, consider different viewpoints, and ask questions. In a discussion, there are three hierarchical levels of interaction.
The dialogue created by a post, its responses, and the comments on those responses is sometimes called a thread.
All course staff members and enrolled students can add posts, responses, and comments, and view all of the posts, responses, and comments made by other course participants. Members of the course community, both staff and students, can be given permission to moderate or administer course discussions through a set of discussion administration roles. Discussion threads are saved as part of the course history.
The Participating in Course Discussions chapter describes features that are available to all discussion participants, and may be useful to students who are new to online discussion forums. You can share the chapter with your students by, for example, adding a “Never Used a Discussion Forum Before?” post that includes the information you think will be most useful to them.
Discussions in an edX course include both broad topics on course-wide areas of interest such as “Feedback”, “Troubleshooting”, or “Technical Help”, and the content-specific topics that you add to course units as discussion components. You create both types of discussion topics in Studio.
For details about creating discussion topics, see Create Course-Wide Discussion Topics and Create Content-Specific Discussion Topics. For details about configuring discussion topics in courses with cohorts enabled, see Setting up Discussions in Courses with Cohorts.
All courses include a page named Discussion. When you create a course, a discussion topic named “General” is available for you to include by default. You can add more course-wide discussion topics to guide how students share and find information during your course. Such course-wide topics might include Feedback, Troubleshooting, or Technical Help. Discussions in these topics can begin as soon as your course is available.
To create a course-wide discussion topic:
When students click the Discussion page for your course, the drop-down Discussion list now includes the topic you added.
In courses with cohorts enabled, the course-wide discussion topics that you add are unified. All of the posts can be read and responded to by every student, regardless of their assignement to a cohort. You have the option to configure these topics to be divided by cohort. See Example: Configuring Course-Wide Discussion Topics As Divided.
To create a content-specific discussion topic, you add a discussion component to a unit. Typically, you do this while you are designing and creating your course in Studio. Follow the instructions in Working with Discussion Components. The result is a discussion topic associated with a unit and its content.
A content-specific discussion topic is subject to the release date of the section that contains it. Students cannot contribute to a content-specific discussion topic until the containing section has been released.
In courses with cohorts enabled, all content-specific discussion topics are divided by cohort when you first add them. Student posts to divided discussion topics can only be read and responded to by members of the same cohort. You can change the configuration of content-specific discussion topics to make them unified and available to all students in the course. See Make All Content-Specific Discussion Topics Unified by Default.
You can designate a team of people to help you run course discussions.
The course team that you set up in Studio (or the course staff and instructors you add on the Instructor Dashboard) are not automatically granted discussion administration roles. Discussion administration roles must be explicitly granted to members of the course team for them to moderate or administer course discussions. The course author, team members with Admin access (Studio), and Instructors (Instructor Dashboard) can grant discussion administration roles.
Different options for working with discussions are available through these roles:
Before you can assign roles to your discussion team, you need their email addresses or usernames.
To assign a discussion administration role, you must be the course author or an Instructor (that is, you are identified in Studio as a team member with Admin access).
On an ongoing basis, the members of your discussion team run the course discussion by making contributions, endorsing responses, marking answers as correct, and guiding student messages into pertinent threads. Techniques that you can use throughout your course to make discussions successful follow.
To identify certain types of messages and make them easier to find, you can define a set of standard tags to include in the subject of a post or in the body of a response or comment. Examples follow.
Both your discussion team and your students can use tags like these to search the discussions more effectively.
When a post is created its type must be selected: either “question” or “discussion”. Members of the discussion team should be thoughtful when selecting the type for their posts, and encourage students to do the same. See Find Questions and Discussions.
To help students learn how to get the most out of course discussions, and find the best discussion topic to use for their questions and conversations, you can seed discussion topics by adding posts before your course starts. Some examples follow.
To encourage longer, threaded discussions rather than many similar, separate posts, the discussion team can use these techniques. However, be aware that long threads (with more than 200 responses and comments) can be difficult to read, and can therefore result in an unsatisfactory experience in the discussion.
Pin a post. Pinning a post makes it appear at the top of the list of posts on the Discussion page. As a result, it is more likely that students will see and respond to pinned posts. You can write your own post and then pin it, or pin a post by any author. Select the “More” icon and then Pin.
Endorse a response. Endorsing a response indicates that it provides value to the discussion. Click the “check mark” (or tick mark) icon for the response.
Mark a question as answered. You use the same procedure to mark a response as the correct answer to a question as you do to endorse contributions to a discussion: click the “check mark” (or tick mark) icon for correct answers.
Close a post. You can respond to a redundant post by (optionally) pasting in a link to the post that you prefer students to contribute to, and prevent further interaction by closing the post. Select the “More” icon and then Close to close it.
Provide post/response/comment guidelines. You can post information from the overview in this chapter, or the anatomy of edX discussions in the next chapter, in a course-wide discussion topic (such as General) to provide guidance about when to start a new thread by adding a post, responding to an existing post, or commenting on a response.
The members of a course discussion team monitor discussions and keep them productive. They can also collect information, such as areas of particular confusion or interest, and relay it to the course staff.
Developing and sustaining a positive discussion culture requires that sufficient moderator time is dedicated to reviewing and responding to discussions. Keeping up-to-date with a large MOOC forum requires a commitment of 5 or more hours per week, and involves reading threads, replying to and editing posts, and communicating with the rest of the discussion team and course staff.
For information on setting up moderators for your course, see Assign Discussion Administration Roles.
You can develop a set of best practices for discussion participation and make them available to students as a course handout file or on a defined page in your course. These guidelines can define your expectations and optionally introduce features of edX discussions.
You can also share the Participating in Course Discussions chapter with your students. It describes features that are available to all discussion participants, and may be useful to students who are new to online discussion forums.
Discussion monitors can cultivate qualities in their own discussion interactions to make their influence positive and their time productive.
For a template that you can use to develop guidelines for your course moderators, see Guidance for Discussion Moderators.
When students create posts, they specify the type of post to indicate whether they are asking for concrete information (a question) or starting an open-ended conversation (a discussion).
On the Discussion page, a question mark image identifies posts that ask questions, and a conversation bubble image identifies posts that start discussions. When an answer is provided and marked as correct for a question, a check or tick mark image replaces the question mark image. See Answer Questions and Mark Questions as Answered.
In addition to these visual cues, filters can help you find questions and discussions that need review. Above the list of posts on the Discussion page, the Show all filter is selected by default. You can also select:
Discussion moderators, community TAs, and admins can edit the content of posts, responses, and comments. Messages that include spoilers or solutions, or that contain inappropriate or off-topic material, should be edited quickly to remove text, images, or links.
Discussion moderators, community TAs, and discussion admins can delete the content of posts, responses, and comments. Posts that include spam or abusive language may need to be deleted, rather than edited.
If a message is threatening or indicates serious harmful intent, contact campus security at your institution. Report the incident before taking any other action.
Students have the option to report contributions that they find inappropriate. Moderators, community TAs, and admins can check for messages that have been flagged in this way and edit or delete them as needed.
You can close the discussions for your course so that students cannot add messages. Course discussions can be closed temporarily, such as during an exam period, or permanently, such as when a course ends.
When you close the discussions for a course, all of the discussion topics in course units and all of the course-wide topics are affected.
To make sure your students understand why they cannot add to discussions, you can add the dates that discussions are closed to the Course Info page and post them to a General discussion.
To close course discussions, you supply a start date and time and an end date and time in Studio. You enter the values in this format:
For example, to close course discussions temporarily for a final exam period in July, and then permanently on 9 August 2014, you enter:
["2014-07-22T08:00", "2014-07-25T18:00"], ["2014-08-09T00:00", "2099-08-09T00:00"]
You enter these values between an additional pair of square brackets which are supplied for you in Studio.
To define when discussions are closed to new contributions and when they reopen:
Open your course in Studio.
Select Settings, then Advanced Settings.
Scroll down to the Discussion Blackout Dates policy key.
In the field for the value, place your cursor between the supplied square brackets. Use the required date format specification to enter the start and end dates for each time period during which you want discussions to be closed.
When you enter the dates and times from the example above, the value field looks like this:
Click Save Changes.
Studio reformats your entry to add line feeds and indentation, like this:
For examples of email messages that you can send to let students know when the course discussions are closed (or open), see Example Messages to Students.