Interactive Discussion Boards May Clarify Confusing Concepts in Advanced-level Physiology Courses

(Madison, Wis.) June 22, 2022—Using an online, interactive discussion board helped increase student understanding and engagement in a large enrollment course, according to new research from The Ohio State University College of Nursing. Physiology educator-researchers will present their findings this week at the American Physiological Society (APS) Institute on Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wisconsin. 

“This discussion strategy is an effective way to identify areas of confusion and also enhance student engagement and understanding. It can be used in classes that meet in person, virtually or with no class meeting at all (asynchronous).” —Amy Mackos, PhD

Educators are challenged when trying to assess how much students understand about the class material when the class size is very large. Student engagement is similarly difficult to gauge when enrollment is high. Developing strategies to address understanding and engagement can be even harder to implement in an online or hybrid course. In this new study, physiology educators used a discussion board format to boost understanding of unclear concepts and student participation in a large classroom setting.

Each week, students in a graduate-level advanced pathophysiology class—which has a typical enrollment of 250 nursing students—were required to post a question about the lecture on a discussion board. The purpose of the board was to identify the concepts from the current week’s lecture that were most confusing to the students. These difficult-to-understand ideas are often referred to as the “muddiest point” in education. After reading the discussion board questions posed by the students, faculty noted the three to five most commonly asked questions, or the week’s muddiest points.

Faculty used the discussion board activity in combination with a “flipped classroom” model, in which students completed required readings and watched recorded lectures before the class met. Therefore, reviewing each week’s muddiest points did not take time away from the curriculum, but rather it was incorporated into the other weekly learning activities, which included case studies and the occasional game.

Approximately 44% of the class responded to a survey in the middle of the semester that asked if students felt the muddiest point discussion board was helpful for clarifying difficult concepts. Two-thirds of the respondents reported that the activity was beneficial to their understanding of the course content.

“This discussion strategy is an effective way to identify areas of confusion and also enhance student engagement and understanding. It can be used in classes that meet in person, virtually or with no class meeting at all (asynchronous),” said first author Amy Mackos, PhD, of The Ohio State University College of Nursing.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The APS Institute on Teaching and Learning will be held June 21–24 in Madison, Wisconsin. To schedule an interview with the researchers, conference organizers or presenters, contact APS Media Relations or call 301.634.7314. Find more highlights in our Newsroom. 

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.