Avoid the Discussion Board Trap

What I’m about to say may not work for every program, professor, or class, but it’s a piece of advice I wish I had heard before I started my online program:

You don’t have to check your discussion boards multiple times a day. Depending on the class, you might not even have to check them daily.

When I first started my program, I felt like I needed to visit the boards constantly.

Read. Refresh. Repeat.

Evenings would disappear as I made sure I read every single post and response from the other 30 people in my class. I found myself checking the discussion boards on my phone in between work projects to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, even when I knew I wouldn’t have time to respond until later. I’m paying a lot of money for this course, I would think. I need to make sure I’m getting every piece of information from it that I can.

10 classes later, I can report that this style of discussion board addiction is far more damaging than it is enriching. Because I was checking when I couldn’t actually respond, I’d spend all day stressing about what I’d say in response. I would lose time in checking the boards rather than engaging in authentic learning experiences or, imagine this, finding a work/school/life balance.

Here are a few tips to staying engaged in discussion boards without being addicted to them:

Annotate Your Readings

I’ve taken to writing a quick summary of what I got out of each reading right after I finish it. I also write notes in the margins of connections I’ve made or questions I’m interested in answering. This has made coming up with an initial post and then finding the source I want during a response much easier and faster.

Post Early

If you post early, you won’t have to carefully review everyone else’s posts to make sure you’re not duplicating a question.

Schedule Your Time

Figure out what time of day you’re going to visit the discussion boards each day, and try to stick to it. This has helped to reassure me that I’m not slacking by not checking the board constantly; it’s just not time to devote my thinking to it yet.

Get Alerted for Group Project Posts

Working on a group project? Make sure you either subscribe to notifications of your discussion board or message one another on a different platform entirely so you aren’t tempted to be drawn back into the normal discussion board.

Read More Broadly

Are you in a class where everyone is repeating back quotes from what you all had to read for the week? Your time will be better used if you find resources beyond what was assigned rather than reading your classmates’ rehashing of the same material.

Pick What To Follow Closely

I’ve seen a variety of formats for the discussion board from professors: some designate discussion board leaders to pose a question every week, some only ask 6 or 7 people to participate at all in a week and rotate through the class, and some ask every single student to pose a question every week. For those classes where more original threads are being created, read over the prompts and choose which interest you most. Not everything is going to be applicable to you, your studies, or your interests. It’s okay to not read everything in every single thread.

Log Off

When you’ve finished doing what you had planned, log off of the platform. You do not need to sit and refresh the page until someone else responds. Even if you’re incredibly intrigued by the subject, your time will be better spent learning about it on other platforms than reading posts that you’re less interested in as you wait. Alternately, go rest or have fun so you are relaxed and have more brainspace for learning later on!

How often do you check your discussion boards? Let me know in the comments!


Kerri is a MSI LIS student at Drexel University Online. She tweets occasionally at @klmillik.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

2 replies

    • Agreed! I typically tend to check at least 5 times a week for my courses, but it really depends on the class and the rhythm that other posters get into. I’m 3 weeks into my current round, and I know one class tends to discuss through the week and everyone else waits until at least Friday to really dive into discussion. I’ll check that every other day on the first half of the week, then dive in on the weekends.

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