Faculty Today

Making the most of online discussions in myCourses

mycourses subscribe

The Discussions feature on myCourses can be an invaluable tool to promote engagement and to extend the classroom beyond its physical location. This post focuses on a number of different features that can help you make the most of your myCourses discussions.

Creating Forums and Topics

By default, your myCourses page does not come with a discussion board enabled. When creating your discussion board, you will be prompted to create both a topic and a forum. A forum is a category of discussion, while a topic is the space where you and the students can post threads and replies. The image below demonstrates the distinction between forums and topics.

Sometimes instructors find that online discussions can get overwhelming. Keeping your discussions organized – when forums and topics are clearly labeled with their purpose – will make it easier for your students to participate and for you to manage your online discussions.

Some ways to categorize your discussions might be: by class topic, by week, by conference/lab/tutorial sections, and by assignment/project.

mycourses topic forum


myCourses allows you to “subscribe” to topics and/or forums. This means that you will receive a notification in your minibar (see example) whenever sometime posts in that topic and/or forum. For instance, you may be interested in subscribing to your discussions if you have a dedicated “Questions for the Instructor” section.

mycourses subscribe

You can also sign up for instant notifications so that you receive an email whenever someone posts in a discussion forum or topic to which you have subscribed. Don’t worry – you won’t get any emails unless you sign up for them!

Modifying your View Settings

Adjusting your view settings can make it easier to see everything going on in your discussion board at-a-glance. Enabling the “Discussion List pane” in your personal settings will allow you to toggle quickly between different topics and forums. The numbers in the right column indicate the number of unread posts.

While the view settings have changed recently, we are hopeful that the previous “grid view” will be restored soon. We will keep you posted on any developments.

mycourses settings

Types of Content

Participants are not limited to simply posting text in discussions. You and your students can include pictures, embed Youtube videos, attach files, link to external content, and more! The text editor also allows you to include tables and mathematical formulas through the Equation Editor. If you wish to get creative, you can also play with fonts, sizes, colours, and more.

mycourses content

Group Discussions and Individual Journals

The Groups tool allows you to create groups of students – manually, automatically, or student-selected. When creating the groups, you also have the option to create group discussions. Group members will only have access to their own group’s journal, while you and any Teaching Assistants with sufficient permissions will be able to access all groups’ journals.

You can similarly use this tool to create groups of one and thus create individual student journals.

Rating Schemes

myCourses has an option to allow students to rate posts—either with a five-star rating scheme, up and down vote, or up vote only. While I encourage you to exercise caution with this tool, it certainly is one way to energize discussions. You can enable this for your entire discussion board or for individual topics.

mycourses rating
mycourses rating

Assessed Discussions

Have you considered including participation in online discussions as a component of your class participation grade? myCourses allows you to assess discussions and even connect your assessed discussions to your gradebook, so that the marks transfer automatically. You can either assess a student’s participation in the overall topic or assess each individual message.

mycourses assessment

Anonymous Posts & Moderation

You can enable anonymous discussion posts—by forum and/or by topic. Similarly, you can require a moderator to approve posts. Using these tools can be a great way to receive mid-course evaluation feedback.

mycourses anonymous post


Want to see at-a-glance which of your students are participating in online discussions? You are able to view (and download) statistics that include the number of posts that students have read, authored, and replied to. You can also view which forums and topics are the most active.

Discussions can be a valuable tool to promote student interaction and engagement, especially in large classes. The index of documentation for instructors using myCourses is available here. If you are interested in learning more about myCourses, you can either request a consultation here or send us an email at tls@mcgill.ca.

Skip to content
%d bloggers like this: