Rock that discussion board

Settling in for a good debate

Settling in for a good debate

Learning to love online classes has to be one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in my first year of library school. I’d still go for in-person classes if time and money permitted it, because being physically isolated from library people can suck, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed the online atmosphere and even learned the thrive in it.

A big part of this is down to asynchronous discussion boards. They aren’t everyone’s favorite, but as Becky noted in her post on making the most of asynchronous classes there are some major benefits to this particular learning tool. Everybody gets heard, your contributions are recorded, and everybody gets plenty of time to think about what they’re going to say. That extra time to think is my favorite part. I can be kind of flippant in person, so reacting in a format that forces me to consider what I mean to say allows me to better understand the material and (I hope) makes me seem much more intelligent and generally adult-ish.

The downside is that your “classroom contributions” will probably be held to a much higher standard than they would in-person, so you’ve got to bring your A-game every time you sign in. To aid you in hacking the online environment, here are my top strategies for asynchronous discussion boards.

Post Early

By early, I mean the first day the board is open, as soon as you’ve digested the weekly reading. It can be disheartening to put your thoughts out there and get e-crickets for days, but posting early gives you two major benefits. Firstly, you’re less likely to double-post on something your classmates have already covered, which never looks good. Secondly, getting your major post up ASAP sets you up nicely for the rest of the week or module, allowing you to be part of an ongoing discussion rather than constantly playing catch up.

Know the Tone

This applies to synchronous boards too. Friendly professionalism will always go over well, but there are some classes that skew more towards an ongoing, well-informed chat. Look to your professor’s comments to gauge what’s expected. For example, I once posted this video to a much more informal board while discussing patron response to “roving reference.” It went over very well and was actually a relevant contribution, but I’d never dream of doing the same in my more formal classes.

Don’t Spam the Board!

It’s good to be active, but try to contribute only when you have an actual point to make. These boards get long enough as it is.

Have a List

Your professor will probably start things out with certain topics they’d like to see discussed, but you should also keep a running scratch pad of themes and connections you notice as you’re doing your prep-work. Think about how you might introduce your ideas, and how they might connect to things discussed in previous weeks or even things you’re reading outside of class.  This makes a huge difference when you’ve hit the middle of the week and things are starting to drag.

Bring in Outside Stuff

Don’t feel you have to stick to the syllabus! If you read something in Library Journal or saw a great TV program that’s relevant to the class, don’t be shy to throw in a link to that item. The whole point of getting an MLS is to support your chosen career, so don’t try to study in a bubble. One caveat here: you have to discuss the actual class material too, or you’ll look like you aren’t doing the reading.

Use a Citation Program or Generator for Outside Sources

Building on my last point, it never hurts to throw in a citation when you bring in something from outside of the class. This will be much easier if you have a reliable means to quickly generate citations (Zotero is great and free). You could also hyperlink to online items. The key is to provide easily-followed sources for your material so that you appear as a thoughtful professional, not an internet troll.

Check in Often

You very well might be in a class that requires two contributions per week, but don’t check out and ignore the boards as soon as you’ve hit your minimum. Your classmates are your future peers and coworkers, and they’re going to teach you just as much as the syllabus. Don’t deny yourself their opinions and experiences. It really doesn’t take that long either; once you’ve got your big starter post written and up, just take some time at the end of each day and read through the boards to see what people are saying.

The key point with discussion boards, beyond any of these tips, is to throw yourself in and give it an honest try. That’s all from me. How do you approach discussion boards?

2 replies

  1. Kara, thanks for this post! You definitely have a better attitude towards asynchronous classes than I do 🙂
    I agree with your point about trying to post early. Unfortunately, one of the things that is difficult about asynchronous classes (especially when they are part of a primarily face-to-face course) is the timing–I haven’t done my reading for the next week when the discussion board opens. At least no one else has, either!

    Like

  2. I think I’m so positive about the online classes because they’ve made library school a reality. Quitting my day job isn’t an option, so there is really no other way I could do an MLS.

    I fall into the readings trap fairly often too; these are best practices not all-the-time practices! In an ideal world I’d always have time to do all my reading on Saturday, but that doesn’t always happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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