Emma, you asked:
>>What might be an alternative to the comment on 2 other threads?
This is a really good question. I've seen the requirement to "comment on (or respond to) 2 other posts (or classmates)" used SO MUCH to meet a minimum requirement to "engage interaction" in a discussion forum. As Junko mentioned, often it becomes just "a hunt for something I can say" rather than an authentic conversation. Another requirement that can be problematic is to force students to produce a minimum number of responses, at a set word count minimum, in order to get any marks at all for the discussion. Sometimes discussion participation doesn't merit a lot of marks anyway, which makes for a very uphill battle.
The only solution (if you can call it that) I've found is to a) post a PROVOCATIVE question to begin with; b) encourage students to respond to each other's post; c) respond myself (as instructor/facilitator) if they don't; & d) keep at it until the conversation warms up a bit. Kind of like fanning a little fire until the kindling is aflame.
Great idea Gina!
What if you went even further and gave them a lighthearted "provocative scale" to show students examples of what you mean? What does provocative look like? What does it not look like? (I suppose you'd have to add in comments about being respectful etc or still adhering to group agreements...)
Jaw Drop - [give example statement here]
Wide Eye - [give example statement here]
Grin - [example]
Meh - [example]
Yawn - [example]
Ok I'm sure someone would have better categories but just spitballing here!
I like your possible solutions Gina, especially the responses by the instructor to model and demonstrate the purpose of the discussion in the first place. As a student, I have always appreciated the instructors encouragement, support and suggestions for new inquiries; their involvement ups the value.