We often receive feedback from teaching staff that they experience problems getting student to engage with Blackboard discussion boards as it is difficult to gain momentum with students replying to discussions at the start of a course and for this to be sustained. However, these problems are easier to overcome with other discussion forum platforms. When investigating further, part of the problem appears to be related to students not subscribing to forum posting notifications when the course commences therefore students are not participating in these Blackboard discussions because they are unaware of new threads or posts. To view new threads or posts, a student would either have to regularly check the discussion forum or manually subscribe to it. Unfortunately there is a significant barrier to getting students to initially subscribe to forums. We feel student interaction and course communications would greatly improve by changing the subscriptions and notifications features within Blackboard.
Having consulted with a number of academic staff and elearning colleagues, we propose changing the discussion forum configuration options to allow four different subscription setups:
1. Optional subscription - students can choose whether to be subscribed (opt in).
2. Subscriptions not allowed.
Note that 1 and 2 are the currently available Blackboard Learn forum subscription behaviours. The following options 3 and 4 are our proposed additions:
3. Auto subscription - all students are subscribed initially but have the option to unsubscribe at any time (opt out).
4. Forced subscription – all students are subscribed and cannot unsubscribe. (I note that there is already a community Idea submitted for this titled “Force Subscribe Students to Discussion Forums” from Dan Hahn).
We feel these four subscription options would give the greatest flexibility to discussion forums. In the case of getting students to engage, we believe that option 3 and occasionally option 4 will most likely help us to improve student engagement when using discussion forums.
We would greatly appreciate consideration of these enhanced subscription options particularly for the development of Blackboard Learn and Ultra platforms. If forced to choose a development path, we would like to look towards the long term and wish to see these options implemented in the Ultra platform. Finally, I would be happy to participate in any further focus groups or webinars about discussion forums.
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