Online Discussions Your Students Will Love

Use Harmonize discussion boards with Blackboard to encourage more frequent and thoughtful engagement in online courses

Getting students to engage in online discussions might feel impossible…

Harmonize makes it a cinch.

Increase student engagement

Harmonize shows students and instructors everything that’s happening, at a glance. As a result, it’s easy for students to discover content and for instructors to monitor student engagement. Reactions and tagging make collaborating in online discussions feel easy and natural for students.

Keep students on the ball by providing more structure

Milestones, or multiple due dates, help students remember deadlines and engage now instead of at the last minute. Use them to set clear expectations, remind students of approaching due dates, and pull them back into the conversation.

Chat and polls

Increase interactions between students and instructors

Encourage more vibrant and frequent interactions by giving every student a pathway to participation. Use annotations to provide richer feedback and facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Instructors can also spark new conversations using chat, polls, and Q&A boards.

Everything you need to take your discussion boards to the next level.

Grid view

Gauge student engagement at a glance. The Harmonize layout makes it easy to see which conversations have the most engagement and what students are saying.

flag icon Milestones

Lend structure to your course experience. Milestones help students see what’s expected of them, and when, so they make substantive, on-time contributions.

rich multimedia icon Rich multimedia

Why should students only be able to post text? Harmonize supports video, images, audio, and embedded URLs, so students can finally express themselves.

Q&A Boards icon Q&A

Let students answer each others’ questions. Leave Q&A boards up all term to avoid repeated questions and help students share information in one place.

polls icon Annotations

Adding annotations to content promotes peer-to-peer learning, richer instructor feedback, and deeper engagement with course material.

reactions & tagging icon Tagging

Pull students into the conversation by tagging them directly. Students and instructors have the ability to tag anybody in the class.


Keep students on task and help them meet deadlines with notifications. Add a custom notification for the whole class or individual students.

chat bubble icon Chat

Using Harmonize Chat, instructors and students can communicate in real time. It’s easy for students to see which classmates are online and begin a new chat.


Use polls to gauge understanding, assess students, or review content. You can even use a poll to take attendance. Run a poll on its own or add it to any discussion.


Students can use emojis to respond to their classmates. Reactions lower the barrier to responding to peers and help more students contribute.

Discussion Board Blackboard

What is a discussion board? An online discussion board, also known by various other names such as discussion board platforms, is a term for any online “bulletin board” where you can leave messages and expect to see responses to your messages. For course instructors, these message boards serve as an online discussion platform for students in online courses — an asynchronous discussion tool that allows students to collaborate with others through posting thoughts or answering questions outside of a physical classroom.

Originating within the Learning Management Systems themselves, online course discussions have evolved since their early days. For example, the ability for instructors to better organize discussion threads as well as the introduction of more modern social-based communication elements like mentions, have made them much more attractive. However, the limitations of many of the traditional discussion board tools remain, including those of the discussion board Blackboard.

Discussion forums, like the Blackboard tool and those found in other LMSs, have become a standard way for students to interact with course content. But these forums are typically text-based and can be challenging to extract deep engagement from students. Nevertheless, the online discussion board is proving to be a powerful tool.

It fosters a sense of community and encourages student-to-student interaction, which research demonstrates improves learner engagement and achievement. Discussion boards for students give all learners the opportunity to expand and clarify their understanding of key ideas. It moves beyond the passive learning forms of reading and listening and allows the learner to actively engage with their peers and instructor. Here, we explore some of the ways and benefits of these boards, and even dive into blackboard discussion board examples.

Blackboard Tools for Online Teaching

Thankfully, the discussion board has evolved since their early LMS days, including Blackboard tools for online teaching. For example, the ability for instructors to better organize discussion threads as well as the introduction of more modern social-based communication elements like mentions, have made them much more attractive. However, the challenges of many traditional online discussion tools remain.

The types of online discussion forums found in most LMSs, including Blackboard tools, have become a standard way for students to interact with course content. The problem is that they only give students one way — and one way only — to contribute. These forums are typically text-based and can be challenging to extract deep engagement from students, especially when group discussion topics for students are fleshed out. They are also notoriously difficult for instructors to track and grade student participation. In fact, in a survey of over 350 educators, 61% said that they spend more than two hours each week attempting to grade discussions, noting their biggest challenge on this front was searching through threads from last-minute participation.

From a usability and visual design standpoint, the way an LMS presents discussions is challenging and unengaging. Text-heavy threads and conversations are tough to follow, and the LMS itself doesn’t do a great job of pushing students toward being better collaborators nor instructors toward being better facilitators. The origin of an online discussion platform in learning management systems — institution’s centralized course management system — makes sense. However, while the LMS has evolved significantly over the years and continues to be essential for supporting teaching & learning, they’re hard pressed to try and do it all.

A suite of online discussion board tools, Harmonize integrates seamlessly with the LMS, like Blackboard, to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. These tools focus attention on the activities that drive engagement, including:

Blackboard Integrations

To achieve the kind of participation and engagement you’d like in your online discussions, consider implementing tools made for this activity — using seamless Blackboard integrations.

Using the Blackboard integration to implement Harmonize, you can facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. These digital learning tools increase the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions and include:

Harmonize’s full and seamless LMS  integration Blackboard means no additional logins for users and a streamlined, time-saving grading experience for instructors. It’s everything an instructor needs to increase student engagement in online discussions, easily complete Blackboard grading, and promote inclusive learning, while saving time and eliminating manual tasks.

Discussion Board Reply Examples

There are many discussion board reply examples as well as general discussion board responses you can leverage. First though, you’ll want to find relevant questions here and use these online discussion examples to craft questions.

Just as important, you’ll want to use creative discussion board ideas to build an interactive discussion. An interactive discussion example includes fostering a space for students to create social presence, interact, and practice leadership — doing that will help create a more interactive space. Once you have your discussion going, it’s time to start responding to students. But you just might be wondering how to respond to a discussion post on Blackboard?

As opposed to using a discussion reply generator, consider this an opportunity to pull shy students out of their shell — in ways they wouldn’t in a physical classroom. To do this, you should respond to a student’s post in at least one of three ways: with a follow-up question, affirmation or praise, or other feedback.

To mimic face-to-face learning experiences online, be sure to respond frequently to your students, whether it’s private or public, and asking a follow-up question to a student’s post will encourage that student to dig deeper on the topic. Here are some discussion board response prompts:

Many of these kinds of  responses draw on the theory of Transformational Learning, whereby learners who are getting new information are also evaluating their past ideas and understanding, and are shifting their very worldview as they obtain new information and through critical reflection. In addition to reinforcing learning, doing this shows that you value their contributions and allows you to further identify students who may not be grasping concepts fully. You can also highlight the good points your students have made. Your affirmation encourages students to post more often and stay engaged. Here is a response to a post example that would effectively engage a student and encourage them to continue sharing their thoughts.

While discussion rubrics and auto-grading for participation can help streamline the grading process, it’s important to provide additional feedback to students that the other students don’t see. This feedback might be a simple compliment on a good post, or it might be more in-depth coaching. Save this kind of qualitative feedback for students who have gone above and beyond expectations or when students are struggling.

Reminder…This is formative assessment.  It may take students time to meet your expectations for discussion posts. Be sure your feedback clearly states areas to improve or what you’d like to see next time, and make certain you give students enough time to implement those changes.

It’s also tempting to respond only to early posters. It could be helpful to keep a running tally of who you have responded to each week, so that you’re sure to interact with everyone throughout the course and on an ongoing basis

Blackboard Partners & Benefits of Online Discussion Boards

Finally, to increase student interactions, consider varying the group size of discussions — a key capability of a good discussion board platform. It creates opportunities for more students to lead discussions, and it also helps those students who are more comfortable sharing in small groups. But to create a space that can support these kinds of activities, you have to have the right tools.

Effective online discussion boards also have a user experience that mimic familiar experiences often have the highest usability — think features like tagging/mentions, reactions, in-app and email notifications, and social media-like interfaces. If a student or instructor logs in and can connect the screen they’re viewing to something they are familiar with from their personal lives, they’re more likely to engage.

When it comes to online discussions, the benefits of online discussion forums for students are far ranging. Online learning can be isolating or overwhelming for students, which can lead to decreased motivation and increased attrition. Discussion boards are a way to provide connection to others.

Asynchronous online discussions also allow for wider participation and deeper, more thoughtful treatment of the topic. Students have time to think before responding and to edit their responses before sharing them with others, especially helpful for learning outside of face-to-face class time.

A good online discussion provides an opportunity for collaboration in online learning — which can sometimes be challenging to facilitate in a digital environment. Collaborative learning opportunities support deeper throat, increase student engagement in online learning, and can help students improve their ability to transfer learning to new contexts.

Finally, one of the most important advantages of online discussion forums is the connection it fosters. The online discussion board is critical for creating social presence and community online. Presence and community foster emotional connection — and these elements are key in improving engagement and, in turn, academic outcomes.

In fact, results from a landmark meta-analysis that looked across 213 studies involving more than 270,000 students found that social and emotional learning (SEL):

That said, not many institutions are able to fully realize these benefits yet because they continue to rely on the basic built-in discussion forums of learning management systems, like those of Blackboard. .

Don’t make technology one of the barriers to participation. Capabilities for creating smaller, student-led, and more interactive discussions in Blackboard are possible. With blackboard partners like Harmonize, you can do all this and more, including tagging instructors or other students and flagging questions for more feedback — all of which lead to increased student activity and engagement.

Additional Resources

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