The online discussion board still serves its purpose


Online discussion boards were all the rage “back in my day.”

Yes, I know this sounds like old man Earnheardt, sitting on his social media front-porch rocking chair, reminiscing about the glory days of the internet.

But I actually uttered those words in class last week. “Back in my day.”

Truth is, discussion boards are alive and well. They’re just as relevant today as they were “back in my day.” They’re still a necessity for asking questions, sharing knowledge, and building community.

In the ’90s and early ’00s, webmasters built sites with pages upon pages of information. The only interactive features were discussion boards.

As a webmaster, these boards helped me build websites. Boundless discussions on coding, graphics and design, a novice developer could easily access text-based tutorials and expert strategies in a matter of a few clicks.

Yes, I’m referring to discussion boards in the past tense, as though they’ve gone the way of the dinosaur. But they’re still here, and some just look a little different.

Consider sites such as Reddit and Quora, discussion board-like platforms with social media features. These sites are perfect for engaging an eclectic audience of experts and newbies.

The problem with these boards today, however, is that the same netiquette problems that have corrupted social media have crept into our discussion board spaces.

Or was it the misuse of discussion boards that corrupted social media?

Anonymity. Trolling. Flaming. Bullying. These were all hallmark antisocial behaviors of a small group of discussion board participants long before social media arrived.

It’s easy to remember the netiquette problems we faced long before social media rolled around.

The solution might be in the most likely place: the classroom. Going back to school might be an easy fix for these types of behaviors, in all forms of online interaction.

As an educator, I use discussion boards all the time in face-to-face and online courses. They’re an education staple.

Post a question or thought-provoking statement and ask your students to respond. Then ask your students to respond to other students. It’s exciting to watch the conversations that ensue.

When I’m teaching a face-to-face course, it’s easy to bring those online conversations into the classroom for deeper discussions.

It’s in these classes that we talk about appropriate discussion board behavior. We talk about community-building dialog. They ask questions online while building meaningful conversations and weaving in nonverbal cues (e.g., smiley faces). They engage in banter that we don’t have time for in our regular class meetings.

My students will tell you that what makes someone want to engage in an online discussion are the feelings of inclusiveness and the sense that they’re being heard.

My students are doing what I hope we all find we want and need from discussion boards: to connect, to learn, and to build community.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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