Creating an online learning community

This article will show an example of how to create an online learning community using Brightspace Discussion forums.

Creating an online learning community - cover image

Course: AFI20306 Aquaculture and Fisheries (150 students)
Period: Period 5 

Short introduction and background

Introduction and story behind the emergence of this learning activity. What was the need, what issue/problem was the teacher facing and wanted to resolve? 

Normally our course consists of one introduction week and five theme weeks. They include live lectures, tutorials and practicals. As we needed to change this P5 course overnight, we started by looking at the learning outcomes and decided which ones we could easily transfer to online education and which ones were more difficult. Transferring the cognitive learning outcomes were the easiest to tackle: we e.g. set-up a guiding Brightspace page that guided the students through the content.  

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The learning outcomes related to skills where of course more challenging as we couldn’t offer any hands-on exercises. Therefore in the end we settled for the minimum requirements to at least ensure that students could pass the course. 

 Due to the short notice, we decided to use the web lecture recordings from last year as a basis for the course and added additional knowledge clips or introduction video’s where necessary. To help students understand the content and to keep track of students’ progress we rewrote the tutorial assignments so that they were self-explanatory and appropriate for independent study. Students were obliged to submit their answers in Brightspace. This way we could keep track of student participation and reach out to students who started lagging behind.  Each week we organised a Q&A session, using Virtual Classrooms, in which students could address any questions they had. We also added discussion fora per theme/week where students could also ask questions and answer each other.  We hoped to stimulate interaction between students this way and prevented students from getting stuck at an exercise.  

Relevant tools / apps (software) or hardware used

Learning outcome(s)

What has been learned after this lesson/activity has been executed ?

Cognitive learning outcomes (understand the content of the course) 

Lesson idea / Learning activity

Specific description and demonstration of the lesson idea/learning activity.

For each Theme/week we created two discussions forums: 


  1. One which specifically linked to the tutorials: students could address questions related to the tutorial assignments in order to prevent them from getting stuck with the exercise when they didn’t understand a specific part. This forum was actively monitored by the theme lecturer so that students never had to wait longer than a few hours for a reply and to make sure that when students were answering each other’s questions, the answers indeed were correct. 
  2. One to facilitate interaction between the students, and to give them the opportunity to explore and discuss theories and concepts addressed in the course. This forum was monitored by the lecturer but in a less intensive manner: he/she would typically intervene when incorrect statements would be made.  
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Figure 1: Example of Discussion Forum topics

Figure 1: Example of the Brightspace Discussion Forum and its topics

Figure 2: Another example of the Brightspace Discussion Forum and its topics

Figure 2: Another example of the Brightspace Discussion Forum and its topics

These discussion fora were not all successful and well used by students as you can see from the number of posts. 

In the discussion forum, students reacted to each other’s questions and the lecturer fulfilled the role of moderator by answering student’s questions or directing the students by asking additional questions him/herself. This forum worked well, an online learning community was created. In the end, we found that students started posting and discussing in the forum that was initially only meant for the tutorials, as this was the most active. We didn’t see this as an issue, it worked out well. Therefore, the next time we would design just one forum per theme, and not make a separation.  

Lessons learned / Tips

Mentions tips lecturer has for colleagues based on their experience.

It is possible to create a successful online learning community by using the Brightspace discussion forum. This requires an active moderator (lecturer) and quite some encouragement towards the students, but in the end, the students highly appreciated the forum. It is important to indicate when the moderator will moderate the forum to manage the student’s expectations. 


Teacher(s): Esther Nijkamp 
TLC contact (on MS Teams): 
Anniek Wintraeken
Author (interviewer): Anniek Wintraeken 



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