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Online discussions are a flexible instructional tool that can help you build a community in fully online courses, can provide peer support and peer marking, or simply can provide a place where students can discuss issues related to the class. As always, when you have a tool that can do many things, it can be overwhelming for both the instructor and the student or learner. When setting up Discussions in Avenue to Learn, you should be able to answer the following questions before starting:

  • What are students going to do with this discussion area?
  • What outcome do I hope to achieve with this discussion?
  • How much is discussion going to be worth (if any grades are assigned at all)?
  • Who is going to monitor the discussion board?
  • Will I allow anonymous posting?

For more information about designing discussions, please visit the following link:

University of Pittsburgh's Online Discussions Best Practices

The Disucssions tool is located within your course, under the Communication menu (Communication > Discussions).

When using Discussions, you first have to create a forum and then a topic for students to discuss. Forums serve as organizers for the topics to be discussed, where threads (or posts) are the items students add to the topic.

Creating a Forum

1. To create a Forum, or organizer for the discussion, first go into the Discussions tool within the course you wish to create a new Forum. Then click the blue, New button, and select New Forum. The only required field in creating a Forum is the title, so enter a title. If you only are having one discussion Topic within this Forum, you can select the “Create a new topic in this forum with the same title” checkbox to save yourself a step. Underneath the description are three options that are worthy of consideration.

Anonymous posting is truly anonymous. Even Administrators cannot see who has posted. While Instructors could cross reference information under User Progress (Edit Course > User Progress), to identify who was in the course at the time of the post, it does not provide a definitive, conclusive answer. Instructors who teach in topics that are personal, sensitive, or deal with issues that could be seen as difficult, you may want to consider making a discussion forum anonymous. The student has to opt-in to appearing as anonymous, and it goes without saying that if you are marking discussions, you may find it difficult to assess grades for anonymous posts.

Moderator Approval holds all posts for someone with Moderator privileges (Instructor and TA1 roles) to approve the post. While this may work in mid sized classes to help manage overloading of posts, large scale classes with required discussions do not tend to be effective with this technique.

The Users Must Start a Thread option requires the student to post first before they can see any of the other posts in the Topics underneath this Forum. Typically we suggest that you do not select this option here, as it is better to check it at the Topic level, which is where it would typically be applied.

As we move further down the page, Availability refers to when the Forum will be available to be seen. If you are using one discussion Forum to hold multiple Topics, you should set the Availability to shortly after the course begins. That way, students will be able to post as soon as appropriate. You can also set Availability on Topics, so you can choose to open the Forum early and dole out Topics as they become needed.

Locking refers to whether or not a person can post a thread to a Topic. Again, most people do not use locking as a mechanism as students are busy and don't tend to continue discussion beyond what is required in the course. However, there are times where you would like discussion to occur within a specific period of time, but still be available for review later. In a situation like that, you may want to apply locking. Either way, you are unlikely to want to lock an entire Forum, rather you would be better to consider locking or unlocking Topics.

For more information about creating Forums, or to visually see the steps described, please watch the embedded video below.

2. When finished, click Save and Add Topic.

Creating a Topic

3. (OPTIONAL) If you have not clicked Save and Add Topic above in step 2, or wish to add a new Topic to an existing Forum, enter the Discussions tool in your course (Communication > Discussion). Click the blue New button, and then select New Topic. You will be required to situate the Topic in an existing Forum.

4.The options for creating a Topic are similar to that of the Forum, with one exception. Topics can be rated. Rating a Topic is done by students in a course, and can show approval, value or benefit of a post. Using the ratings options for a Topic can create a simple peer evaluation process, where students can add rankings or vote up valuable responses.

For more information about creating Topics, or to visually see the steps described, please watch the embedded video below.

For more information about creating forums and topics, please see the following links:

Discussions FAQ

Configuring Discussions

There are two different ways to look at Discussions, Reading View, which is the default view, and Grid View. To enable Grid View, follow the steps described in the video below.

Moderating and Assessing Discussions

If you are using Discussions as an assessment method, you will need to consider how you are going to mark learners responses. Are you going to value frequency of posting, quality of posting, quantity of posting or use a rubric based on all of these ideas?

Edutopia's Guide to Facilitating Online Discussions

Grade a Topic

Effective Pedagogical Practices

Please let us know if you have any further pedagogical input for this tool.

For questions or concerns, Avenue support is available from Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM at (905) 525-9140 ext. 23757 or by completing the intake form located at

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