One of the things that I have found, while taking my Masters via distance ed as well as developing distance education courses, is that providing students with the opportunity to lead a discussion can be extremely beneficial and often surprising. This is obviously much easier for courses with smaller enrollment, but can be done effectively in larger courses given enough forethought, planning, and the use of facilitators.
Setting up the DBRather than creating a “discussion board question” each week. A topic is designated for certain weeks and students are asked to sign up to lead a discussion. The Instructor/Facilitator establishes the list after this initial sign up. If there are more students than weeks, you simply have them “team up” to lead a discussion. This is often more successful in advanced courses, after students have established an understanding of how a typical discussion board runs and the different ways that they can be used.
Scaffolding for SuccessThis can often be difficult, especially for those of us who design courses systematically, but this is essential for success and to encourage student engagement. Now that I have given you the courage, don’t just throw the students into the deep end! It is often a good idea to have one or two discussion boards that you lead the first 1-2 weeks to set an example of expectation. Even better, is to show some variety by including a case study or some other creative type of DB, not just the typically question. These initial experiences, as well as their previous online course experiences with DBs, will begin scaffolding them to successfully lead their own DB.
The second thing that I strongly encourage is to provide them with the rubric that you plan to use for grading their lofty assignment. When do you expect them to get things posted/rolling in the DB? Are you expecting them to reply to each students’ post, or simply to lead the conversation in the right direction? If there are two leaders, will they be on different sides of the topic to stimulate discussion, or will they be partners in crime fighting for what they deem is correct? All of this should be laid out in a nice rubric with points associated to each step. This will keep the “What do I have to do?” or “I didn’t realize I was supposed to comment AFTER the initial post!” down to a minimum… or at least provide you with a nice safe landing to say AHA!