Discussion Forums: Minimizing Thread Proliferation

With discussion forums in Open edX, any learner can create a post. This is a great feature that allows students to have a voice and make sure their questions or ideas can be heard by others. However, it also comes with a drawback where learners are creating a high volume of new posts and questions, making it difficult to search back for relevant information later. This is called "Thread Proliferation"

Here's an example of thread proliferation:

A course has a discussion forum that's designed to be a place for students to introduce themselves to one another. It might look something like this. 

A student's natural action is probably going to be to click "Add a Post" and say something like, "Hi, I'm Cody!" Here's what that looks like in the Course when a bunch of students are doing it. 

This might be just what you want. However, this is what the same page looks like on the Discussion page:

The fact that each post is on the same level as the original can be confusing to look at. You can also see that there's another post about the actual course content that is beginning to become buried. This can become a problem for large courses pretty quickly.

Here's the best way to prevent thread proliferation

Typically the best way to prevent thread proliferation is to simply communicate with your students. Make sure they know that if they have a response to a particular thread, add it as a response to that thread, not as a new, separate post.

This might look like having a separate unit near the beginning of the course dedicated to explaining discussion forums and how they work. Or you could also simply add a note within each discussion post or question directing students to click expand in order to add response. Doing both is probably the best way to be certain students are clear on how to participate in discussions.

In this Discussion post, we made sure to tell our students to click the "Expand discussion" button in order to add responses. Here's how that looks in the course:

And here's how it looks in the Discussion page: 

This allows discussions to stay organized, relevant, and easily searchable by learners. It will also be important to have Discussion Admins and Moderators checking to make sure new posts are following these guidelines, as opposed to simply creating new posts by mistake. 

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