The online discussion board can be a tool that the instructor can use in the Web-enhanced, Web-supported, or the fully online course. The use of this tool and the subsequent activity that occurs on a discussion board can serve as an optimal method to provide experiential learning opportunities for the learner and promote higher order/ critical thinking through problem-based learning. A discussion board strategy is outlined that includes the key components to incorporate in a discussion within the online environment. A rubric is included to assist in the assessment of the learner's online discussion posts.
THE DISCUSSION BOARD STRATEGY
Utilizing a discussion board strategy is an efficient way to present a discussion board question, provide an experiential learning opportunity that is problem-based and have students engage in higher order/critical thinking tasks. To accomplish all of this through the use of a discussion board activity, the instructor can employ a strategy. The following steps can be used to guide the instructor:
1. Determine the topic for the discussion board activity based on the content.
2. Determine the goals and objectives to be accomplished: the goals and objectives are tied to the content.
3. Decide what role the instructor will have and what role the learner(s) will have.
4. Determine the methodology or way in which the learner(s) can be engaged in the discussion board activity.
5. Sculpt the question to encourage higher order/critical thinking. Consider providing an experiential learning opportunity within the context of the activity. This question can be problem-based.
6. Consider how the learner(s) might approach the problem/ question posed on the discussion board.
7. Manage the discussion board.
8. Assess the learner's posts.
9. Reflect on the process.
10. Produce and provide any scaffolds that are required.
When designing an online course, whether it will be experiential in nature or not, planning is a key element. As part of the planning process, the instructor will have incorporated sound instructional design principles in both the design and development of the course. The instructor will have clearly-identified the goals for the course as well as the objectives. Specific objectives for the each module/theme and/or week (dependent on how the instructor presents the content) will be based on the overall goals for the course. Inherent in the instructor's plan will also be the methodology to be used when teaching the course. If the instructor wishes to encourage experiential learning, content and activities would be formulated keeping in mind the components of experiential learning. Within the planning process, then, the instructor will have identified how these components would influence the learner.
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING AND THE DISCUSSION BOARD
So how does the instructor use the discussion board to promote experiential learning? Let us first examine the components of experiential learning which are: Knowledge, Activity and Reflection (Institute for Experiential Learning, 2003). Utilizing these three components, let us look at experiential learning in terms of the learner, beginning first with knowledge, then engagement in an activity and, finally, learner reflection. As part of knowledge acquisition, the learner first observes and reflects on the content that has been presented. At this point, the learner is in the process of relating the newly-acquired information (new knowledge) to prior knowledge. The learner is then engaged in an activity and is provided with an opportunity that would promote higher-order thinking (generalization and conceptualization of the new concept). Engaging the student in higher-order thinking or critical thinking tasks requires the learner to work at the level of analysis, synthesis or evaluation as identified in Bloom's taxonomy (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). …