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How to Respectfully Disagree on a Discussion Board

When you’re earning a degree online, conversations occur on a virtual discussion board instead of a physical classroom.

The discussion board in your online classroom may be your only means of interacting with your fellow students and instructor, so the way you interact matters. Your grades may depend on both the frequency of participation and the quality of your posts.

When disagreeing with someone’s post, it’s important to not make it personal. Do not attack the person who posted the statement. Instead, construct a thoughtful reply. Acknowledge that you understand their position.

If you can, find something they said you do agree with. Then explain your disagreement and propose alternatives. Include facts to back your position. Use logic and reason, not emotion, to make your points. Focus on presenting your arguments clearly, not just poking holes in the argument. And consider ending your post with a question inviting further discussion.

If the disagreement continues, take the time to read their responses carefully. Listening to others in a conversation is key to understanding. On discussion boards, a close read is required.

Course instructors want you to add something to the conversation, not just share your opinion. Instructors want you to include facts and cite sources. Adding information from your own life can provide insights into your thought processes and bolster the quality of the discussion. Offering substantive information that will engage others and further the conversation should be your goal.

A grading rubric published by eLearn Magazine requires the following to earn an A: “Astute insights provided to promote ongoing discussion on the topic. Asks inquisitive, productive questions.” Posting on time, expressing nothing more than agreement or disagreement, may land you a C in the same rubric.

It’s important to keep in mind that, unlike a classroom setting, your body language and facial expressions aren’t available for others to decipher. A wisecrack in person, for example, may be clearly a joke. But often in written conversations, the tone can be ambiguous. Think about a text or email you’ve sent that was misunderstood. When you post on discussion boards, you need to make sure you express yourself clearly.

And just like in-person discourse, civility and respect are vital in these discussions if they are to be productive, especially in cases where there’s disagreement.

The ability to consider new ideas and arguments despite your own tightly held convictions is a sign of intellectual maturity. A willingness to consider multiple points of view will allow you to have constructive conversations long after you’ve completed your online courses.

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