Why Online Discussion Boards Mean Unprecedented Inclusion in Higher Ed

Professors often provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge through discussions; both online and in person. While this teaching format does allow students to deepen their knowledge through inquiry and collaboration, many times only a handful of students participate in the discussion while the majority only passively participate by listening or reading. 

This silent majority aren’t silent for lack of anything of value to say. Rather, they are quiet because of their social, psychological, ethnic or cultural barriers. 

That does not make for an inclusive environment.

Learning is a Social Activity

Deeper understanding about content occurs when students collaborate. This is because learning occurs in a social context, so by providing avenues for discussion, debate, and interaction we lead students to a better understanding of overarching ideas of the course.

Think of areas such as the humanities, languages, history, and literature. The content the students work with is primarily language and ideas. In order to apply ideas and work through theories, classrooms should focus on pedagogical exercises such as discussion and debate.  

This also applies to business education. The corporate world relies heavily on interacting with many people with various backgrounds, experience levels and professional focus. So, learning about business should also reflect that type of diverse and inclusive participation.

While it is possible to expand these same ideas through just reading and writing, the reality is that learning is both faster and deeper when it occurs with others

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Challenges of In-Person Discussions

Although better learning occurs when students collaborate, this is not always easy for professors to achieve.  While facilitating a class discussion, it can be very challenging to get every student to participate in a meaningful way. Five students lead the discussion while 25 do not participate. Professors are battling years of prior school experiences. Social Learning Theory tells us that students have learned to respond or not respond by observing how discussion groups have gone. To combat this and engage every student in the classroom, it takes time and process that teachers might not have.

There are other factors at play beyond the student’s prior school experience. Personality of the student plays a role too. The most vocal, confident students typically dominate class discussions. Extroverts monopolize the discussion, which can cause issues with learning and engagement. All students are not learning and active in the same way if only a few are responding to questions. 

Students with language barriers also could be hesitant to participate in a live-action discussion. Even with the most outgoing personality, a student who is still adapting to the language will struggle to fully participate because of the nature of the activity. 

Finally, it is not solely about including all students; it is also about accountability for learning. It becomes a challenge for the professor to grade, comment upon, and provide feedback to students in a “live-action” setting like the classroom. 

Unfortunately, in higher education we have systematically created many of these barriers through the design of our classrooms. But because they are systemic issues, we can find systemic solutions, such online collaborative discussion boards. 

So, how can teachers create a space for all to learn, an international environment that allows and encourages everyone to fully participate? Online discussion boards hold the key to this answer. This is especially true for discussion boards that reward students for quality contributions and classes for deep, thoughtful conversations.

Online Discuss Board Create Opportunities for All

Online discussion boards create space for deeper discussion, but professors will find that Ment.io offers a platform that is more inclusive and more available to all students.

As opposed to a real-time, live discussion, a digital format allows for more thoughtful responses, more engaging discussion, and systemic support for students who have traditionally been left out of class discussions. Students with language acquisition issues have time to respond and edit their ideas if needed. It allows for all types of students, both extroverted and introverted, to have full and equitable access to the discussion.

Therefore, online discussion boards are excellent for creating an international environment and overcoming those barriers, whether language, cultural, personality or prior school experience. 

The transition to digital learning that has occurred because of the pandemic has increased the need for digital discussion boards, but also increased the skill level of students to engage in this format. Students are more comfortable navigating this world than ever before. This transition to asynchronous learning creates an opportunity for even more students to be included

Space for All to Learn

Now is the time for universities to take advantage of better, more engaging tools that support all types of students. Superior online discussion boards, such as Ment.io, take into account individualization of the student’s voice, support original thought through analytics, and value the quality of the response, not the volume of it.

Inclusion cannot exist without an environment that was designed specifically for learning and inclusivity. Fostering different ideas and perspectives is paramount to an inclusive class that reaches its full potential. With asynchronous student engagement platforms, all students are enabled and empowered to take part in the joint analytical process. The loud, the quiet, the native speaker, the non-native speaker, and everyone in between become equal and engaged in the same way. 


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