Motivating students to participate in forum discussions is not an easy task. It requires strategic effort by the instructor while designing the course, and while the discussion is taking place. Below are core elements that will create and sustain dialogue in an online discussion.
- A well designed course that ties in to the course objectives and learning outcomes.
- Clear, concise guidelines and expectations for student participation.
- Well constructed topics and questions.
- A skilled facilitator or moderator.
- An assessment component for giving student feedback.
Some educators feel that grading a discussion forces students to participate and that students will only do what is necessary for the grade and not engage further. Other opponents suggest that with a prescribed set of questions the discussion becomes narrow with no opportunity for creativity. However, experience and research shows that grading participation is effective in promoting and encouraging meaningful discussion when the essential assessment elements are included.
Grading with a Rubric
One of the core elements of effective discussions are clear, concise, quantitative guidelines that students can follow. A standard rubric can be tweaked and customized to fit a course and used as a method for the evaluation of student discussion posts. The grading of discussions can be much easier with a tool such as a rubric available. For examples of grading rubrics, see the Resources posted at the bottom of the page.
Below is a preamble to the rubric that is suggested by Morrison (2012).
"The participation/contribution grade is based upon the content, depth, and quality of your contributions to the forum discussions using the standards found withing the grading rubric below. Contributions to weekly discussions represent xx points, which makes up xx% of your final grade. Participating consistently, with thoughtful answers early in the week, and responding to, and engaging in discussion with your peers will have positive effects on your overall grade."
Timing and Feedback
The timing of feedback is a determining factor on whether or not students participate. It is best to post grades within the week following the close of a discussion. If a student has not participated at all, he or she gets a "0" - which will usually prompt that student to participate the next week. Timely feedback allows students to assess his or her participation, and improve upon or continue with behaviors that support learning in the next week. Timing also builds momentum and aids in sustaining dialogue.
Besides assigning a grade to discussion postings, instructors on occasion may want to provide feedback to individual students. This could be in the form of one or two sentences of encouragement or the reason for a given grade. A more efficient method is a collective post or announcement at the end of the discussion period that summarizes the instructor's observations and provides comments and suggestions.
Online discussions have great potential to engage students and support meaningful learning that can lead to student understanding of the subject matter. The assessment component gives a sense of instructor presence. The receiving of grades or comments on discussion posts indicates that the instructor is reading the posts and cares enough to give feedback. Having a rubric and timely grading practices in place focuses the evaluation process and provides a structure that is more likely to lead to student learning.
References and Resources
Morrison, D. (June 28, 2012). The Methods and Means to Grading Student Participation in Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.
Rubric for asynchronous Participation, by Barbara Frey
The TLT Group, A non-profit organization for performance and learning
Rubrics for Higher Education, click here