Student Orientation: Taking an Online Course

Using Sakai—continued

« Previous: Lessons | Next: Assignments »

Discussion Forum (CCO only)


The discussion forum is the online equivalent of a classroom discussion, with one difference—contributions are mandatory (and no one can hide in the back row). As one instructor said, “I would put my online students up against my lecture students any day—they cannot be passive online.” In general, the instructor will post a discussion topic for each lesson, and you and your classmates will be responsible for answering this question and responding to each other’s answers. The questions tend to be open ended, and your responses will typically require you to synthesize what you learned from the reading assignment with your own ideas.


Your instructor will list discussion forum questions at the end of each lesson page. You should review them before you start reading so that you can keep them in mind as you’re doing your reading. When you begin writing your response, it’s best to do it in a word processing program (such a Microsoft Word) and then pase it into Sakai.

To learn how to post to the discussion forum, you can either watch the video or continue reading below.

VIDEO: How to Post to Sakai’s Discussion Forum

When you’re ready to post your response, you should navigate to the discussion forum (via the left-hand navigation bar). The main page of the discussion forum will look similar to the image below, with a different heading for each lesson.
Discussion Forum
Click on the name of the lesson to which you’re responding. After you click on a lesson, you will be directed to a new page that will look similar to the one shown below. Select “Start a New Conversation.”

Discussion Forum lesson

A form, similar to the one pictured below, will appear for you to enter your response. Give your thread a title.

Discussion Forum post thread

Click the Paste from Word icon (shown below), which makes a new box appear on your screen. Paste the response that you into that box and click “Okay.” This step prevents extra coding from appearing in the middle of your post.

Paste from Word

Then click the “Post” button.

If you’re ready to reply to someone else’s post, watch the video for step-by-step instructions, or continue reading below.

Select Reply (as shown below).

Discussion forum reply

After selecting “Reply,” you will see a screen with a form for you to enter your reply. Paste your reply in from Word using the Paste from Word icon again.

Discussion forum reply form

After you have submitted your reply, the thread will look like the image below, with the reply nested underneath the original post.

Finished post and reply


Do your part to build a community

It takes no more than you and your classmates doing your share in the discussion forums to turn yourselves into a cohesive classroom community. When everyone in the class makes frequent, thoughtful, and relevant posts, the value of online discussion as a learning tool can be immense.

Some students make the mistake of waiting for someone else to tell them what to do and when to do it. Like classroom students who sit in the back and never raise their hands, they hope to avoid work by being unnoticed. This works all too well in an online class. If you don’t contribute, you are invisible (although your lack of participation will be reflected in your course grade).

A different kind of student may check the forum ten times a day, posting responses to anything and everything without considered thought. This can easily lead to burn-out and disappointment when the rest of the class isn’t at the same white-hot pitch.

Checking your class forum once or maybe twice a day is, in most courses, a good habit to establish.

Respect your classmates

In most courses, one of your required tasks will be to respond to classmates. This does not mean attack and destroy—harsh or irrelevant language shuts everything down and discourages people from posting. Nor does it mean “Hey, great post!”-ing without adding something to the mix. Respond in the original terms of the discussion assignment, using respectful language and relevant ideas. Share your insight and knowledge without denigrating the contributions of others. Cite the readings. A good discussion, with ideas flowing back and forth, can be the best way to learn difficult material.

Here are some tips for making sure you and your classmates engage in good discussions throughout the semester:

  • Use a civil and respectful tone, regardless of topic or what others say. A welcoming environment is essential.
  • Make sure you add something to the conversation, rather than simply restating the facts. Ask questions. Try to “think like a practitioner” of the discipline, whether it’s history or biology.
  • Participate early and often.
  • Read the posts from other students before posting your own and avoid duplicating them.
  • Share your enthusiasm for the material.
  • Contact your instructor if you are struggling. Discussion participation affects your grade.

« Previous: Lessons | Next: Assignments »