How do I use Discussion Board in CourseWorks?

The discussion board in CourseWorks was relatively straightforward. There were “categories” and “topics”. The first message in the topic was a prompt provided by the instructor. Each message in a topic had an accompanying “reply” button, which students could use to reply to the instructor or each other. These replies establish a discussion “thread” (a term commonly used to describe “conversations” in the context of discussion boards or forums). 

When you enable the “Discussion Board” feature (“site settings” —> “edit tools” —> check on discussion board), you will see that a “General Class Discussion Forum” and “Week 1 Discussion Questions”. You may edit the title, description, and permissions for either the forum or topic via the adjacent “settings” link.

Within each topic class members can click on the “post new thread” link to begin a new threaded conversation. The “display entire message” link will show all elements of the topic (e.g. it will show all threads and messages within the topic). This is a good way to display all of the threads/messages within a topic, which may be handy to print and bring into the classroom for discussion sections.

It’s really important that the instructor set up both a Forum and a topic and that the topic settings be configured in such a way that the role “student” can act as a “contributor”. This means that students will be able to start new “threads” with their responses to the topic that was started by the instructor.

Some of the language in the discussion board section is inconsistent. You may encounter the words “thread”, “message”, “postings” or “response” all referring to the same thing in different areas of the discussion board tool. Hopefully, some experimentation in the discussion board will allow you to become comfortable with these inconsistencies. Once students get the grip of creating new threads, things should go relatively smoothly.

Alternatively, you could set up the discussion board “one level down” from the structure described above. In this setup, you can set up the “topic” and then establish a “thread” within it, which describes the assignment. Students could be instructed to reply to the thread, which would organize the discussion at the thread level. In this scenario, you might want to tweak the settings for the “student (contributor)” role in the topic settings so that students are unable to create a “New Response”. This will preclude students from making new threads and allow them only to provide a “response to response” (e.g. “reply” to a thread). In this scenario you will still be able to use the “Display Entire Message” option to view your original post and students’ responses.

Finally, be sure not to establish a discussion board at the Forum level. It is possible to allow your students to establish new “topics” (in the forum settings). However, if you establish your discussion board at this higher level, there is no way to read all of the topics within a forum simultaneously (e.g. there is no “Display Entire Message” option at the forum level). So if each of your students establishes a topic within the forum, you will have to visit each topic separately in order to follow the “thread” of the discussion board, which will be especially difficult in large classes.

The bottom line is this: in CourseWorks it’s important to establish your discussion threads at the appropriate level within the discussion board. If your students become comfortable creating new threads, your discussion board will run smoothly throughout the semester.

If you need assistance establishing a discussion board in CourseWorks, please contact CTL during business hours at 212-854-9058 or via email at

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