Documentation:Bonus Discussion Design

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Bonus Discussion Design

This is one of many strategies for using the discussion board tool.


This page describes the design and results of a discussion forum set up in Blackboard with the intention of providing opportunities for students to extend their knowledge, reflect and interact. The discussion was in a third-year Fundamentals of Nutrition course taught by Dr. Yvonne Lamers.


  • Extending students’ awareness of current literature
  • Engaging students in interpretation and analysis
  • Fostering dialogue, and
  • Fostering awareness of alternative viewpoints supported by published peer-reviewed literature.


  • Students choose an article on the current topic and post to a thread for that article
  • Students could initiate a thread with a new aspect of the topic or respond to a post with another related article
  • Contributions are evaluated based on scientific currency, literature/evidence, and interpretation and/or argument of relevance.

The online graded discussion within Blackboard was used. Participation was worth up to three bonus marks, with an effective course weight to be decided by the teaching team.

The bonus discussion was set to run for approximately two weeks, then closed using availability settings within the Connect environment.

In the January – April 2015 (2014W2) section of the course the bonus discussion postings were to be focused on Proteins. This was one of eight instructional units in the course with others relating to physiology and other nutrients and substances such as lipids, carbohydrates, alcohol, and fibre. The description of the discussion was posted in the Discussions area of the course:

Start a thread on a current topic on PROTEINS. This can be related to dietary intake, metabolism, or requirements and should be appropriate for the course FNH 350. Each student can get up to 3 bonus marks; weight to be determined by the teaching team.

Responders can receive up to 3 points for responding in the same thread

  • 1 mark: finding a different angle or approach to the same topic
  • 1 mark: citing another peer reviewed journal article(s) supporting the different approach to the same topic
  • 1 mark: interpreting the article(s) arguing relevance of the new article on its own as well as in relation to the first

Participation and results

  • There were 76 students enrolled in the course.
  • 30 of the 76 students participated in the bonus discussion, posting a total of 35 posts.
  • 11 threads ranged in length from one post to five posts on a given sub-topic. The mean number of posts in a thread was 3.18.
  • One student contributed 3 posts. Three students posted twice each.
  • Of the thirty students, four earned two bonus marks each, and 26 earned three bonus marks each.

Questions for consideration:

  • Is there correlation between participation and grade achievement in the course?
  • Who read the posts?
  • What was the effect on learning?
  • Were the weaker students helped by this?
  • Were average and stronger students’ experiences improved by the bonus discussions?
  • What was the quality of discussions?
  • Are there implications for marking?
  • Is this scalable?

The instructor reported a high level of satisfaction and success with this assignment. Initial goals and objectives were fulfilled. The quality of dialogue reflected exemplary scholarly conversation, with academic language and source citation balanced with individual perspective. For such a small number of marks, participating students put in significant work, and demonstrated thoughtful engagement and reflection.