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AssessmentCourse Discussion: Assessment

What do you mean by "participation"? How do I get an A?

While some instructors provide a vague item called "participation" in their course syllabus, it's recommended that course developers identify specific assessment criteria to evaluate student performance.

One popular approach is to require a minimal level of participation. For instance, you might require students to post an assignment or provide another type of significant contribution.

If the discussion prompt requests a single, correct answer, the discussion will end with the first posting. Avoid this by requiring a unique example or solution. Or, asking a higher level question. Turn a knowledge level question into an evaluation level question.

These student postings will then generate questions, ideas, suggestions, and feedback from other students. Students are then required to post one or more responses to other students.

Provide Specific Guidelines for Assessment

Be sure to provide specific guidelines for assessment. These guidelines may serve as the basis for all course discussions or be specifically connected to individual discussion items.

Example 1: Discussion Activity Assessment

The following "Sample Activity Assessment" was developed by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson for their online courses.

Two points are possible on postings. One point is given for adequately addressing the specific requirements of the activity and posting it in the appropriate location. One point is given for providing an insightful posting with concrete, vivid examples. Your posting should cause classmates to think, react, investigate, question, laugh, or cry. Okay, maybe not laugh or cry, but at least stop and think, "that's interesting"... Quality postings contain some of the following characteristics:

  1. References the professional literature (texts, websites, supplemental reading, additional relevant materials located by the student)
  2. Concise and on target (100 to 250 words), but detailed enough for understanding and meaningful application to the issue addressed
  3. Raises an area of inquiry or an issue in a clear manner for further discussion or debate
  4. Recommends a resource which helps a fellow student gain more understanding on an issue or topic
  5. Summarizes information as evidence that either validates (supports) or suggests a different perspective (counters) and the information is referenced; such information may or may not agree with the poster's personal opinion
  6. Links together several postings to suggest a conclusion, a recommendation, a plan or a broader observation that what has been previously posted on the issue or topic
  7. Messages are on a frequent basis across the semester so that they interact with messages from other classmates and are not bunched for delivery.

One point is given for adding at least one response on the assignment thread. These can be added to the discussion of your posting or the posting of another student. It is suggested that you go back and read through the comments and suggestions added to your posting, but you are not required to respond specifically these comments. Below you'll find examples of the kinds of "responses" that will be counted. Feel free to "get into" the discussion with as many comments to your peers as you'd like. However to receive your 1 response point, be sure that your response is insightful and will help others in their learning.

  1. Act on a suggestion. For example, after reading a comment from a peer, you might decide to add an example, suggest a website address or other resource, answer a question, or clarify an idea.
  2. Provide feedback to others such as a specific comment or idea along with an example, expansion, or suggestion. In other words, "way to go Susie" is a good start, but won't get you a point. You could even start with "that's crap Susie", however the key is providing positive, constructive criticism or helpful and encouraging advice. Healthy debate is fine, but let's discourage mean-spirited comments.
  3. State an opinion and provide supportive evidence or arguments. This can be fun because it can really get a discussion going.
  4. Add an insight. If you've had an encounter with the topic being discussed, it would be valuable to hear your thoughts and "real world" experiences. This should be more than "I'll use the idea in class." How and why will you use the idea? Would the idea work in another area? How or why?

Example 2: Weekly Discussion Rubric

The following "Sample Grading Rubric for Online Discussion" was developed by Debbie King at Sheridan College (Palloff & Pratt, 2003, p. 91-92).

Level of Participation During One Week

Participation will be based on levels of thinking reflected in your weekly threaded discussions.

Evaluation of Levels of Thinking in Weekly Threaded Discussions

Critical Thinking

Information Processing


Create specific criteria for evaluating student discussions.
Ensure that students are aware of this criteria.

apply itApply It!
Let's practice. Use each of the criteria above to evaluate the postings and replies from the following discussions:
AP College English: Lying Ira
AP College English: King Lear's Timelessness

Compare your results.
Then, create your own discussion guidelines.

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