Why You Should be Grading Student Participation in Online Discussion

It’s election year in the US and everywhere in print and on the Internet we are having discussions. In our society, discussions are the forum where we as individuals can find mutual agreement on ideas, contrast and contradictions of theories and most importantly a common ground to voice our concerns and freedom of speech. Therefore, why wouldn’t we want to teach our students not only how to have a good democratic discussion that fosters and encourages all of the above, but most of all, learning.

Discussion deepens a student’s understanding of the assignment topic while also allowing for many points of view. It allows the outspoken to speak and the not-so-outspoken to feel a part of the conversation. In addition, when discussion board questions are linked directly to course content and assignments, you can assess a student’s ability to exercise their critical thinking skills when responding to questions in original posts and to other student’s posts.

Discussion boards help to ensure higher-order skills, such as the ability to recall previously learned materials, know specific facts, methods and procedures; and know basic concepts and principles.

Discussion is one of the ways for students to learn and explore the many facets of a conversation while also discovering their own knowledge and passions about a given assignment topic, especially if it relates directly to their career field. With working undergraduate and graduate students, you see topics come alive and the diversity of thoughts, sometimes simple and direct, often complex, multiply into a round of engaged learners who are conversing and sharing common ground. You also see them offering helpful suggestions not just on the topic matter, but as undergraduate and graduate students on what is happening to them on the job, with their careers or future businesses. They are acting as supportive mentors and friends, while also discovering their own excitement at mastering the assignment topic and knowing how to apply it in a real time, live discussion format.

So, you are asking yourself, when is she going to present her argument? Well, after providing a long but sincere introduction, I will begin by saying; in online teaching I favor graded participation in discussion rooms. Grading enhances and fosters learning, while also increasing student-to-student engagement and instructor-to-student engagement. For certain topics, such as marketing, it allows students to respond to carefully developed questions that encourage students to use both critical and strategic thinking and apply the marketing principles they have learned to marketing scenarios provided by the instructor or real life marketing projects they are currently involved with at work. Instead of giving them a quiz at the end of the assignment week to test their knowledge of marketing terms or verify that they read the chapter, they are being assessed via discussion post and responses on their ability to apply marketing principles and theories to develop promotional strategies, programs, goals, objectives, tactics, SWOT analysis and more. This goes above and beyond what is possible with quizzes.

Today’s students are used to engaging in dialogue on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and posting replies on blogs and news feeds. They like this exchange of thoughts and feelings. They learn the ability to craft a post that solicits an argument or counter argument that allows the topic to be pushed beyond the confines of the course into the real world of their career field. In this way they can share solutions, ideas and even support, while demonstrating they are solving problems and issues they may face in their career field related to a particular marketing principle or strategy. This type of exploration into formal dialogue and inquiry goes beyond quizzing them on marketing terms. Discussion boards, especially graded discussion boards, help to demonstrate they have increased and embraced the assignment topic.

Some would disagree, feeling that discussion should not be graded. At the same time, you would question why you can’t get your students to participate in discussions. Grading any assignment or quiz creates an imbalance between the student and the instructor. But grading multiple choice quizzes, doesn’t really demonstrate that the student has grasped the learning objectives and knows how to apply them in real life in their career field. On the other hand, graded discussion boards teach students how to discuss not only in the online learning space, but also within the confines of their own personal social space.

Graded participation on discussion boards is another way that online instructors can participate and engage with students through feedback both while in the discussion room, or with the use of Wraps and Weaves. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, discussion boards help to ensure higher-order skills, such as the ability to recall previously learned materials, know specific facts, methods and procedures; and know basic concepts and principles. The instructor is there, posing the questions that ask Who, What, When, Where and How.

And when you couple a good set of questions on the discussion board, linked to the assignment topic, I would strongly recommend the use of a good grading rubric, with assignment-specific criteria, so that students can stay on topic in the discussion room, creating professional discussion posts and responses that avoid typos and extensive grammatical errors.

Tell me what you think!

Do you agree or disagree that graded discussion boards help to build higher-order learning skills, enhance engagement while fostering a sense of space in the online classroom? Do you agree that graded discussion boards linked to assignment topics is a great way to assess critical thinking skills and knowledge, while also assessing the ability to apply learning objectives, such as marketing principles, etc., post and responses?

But most importantly, do you think that grading participation in discussion rooms is an excellent way of getting online students engaged and participating in their online learning space, not just by downloading and uploading assignments, but by being engaged with each other and supporting each other as they navigate through their course content, assignment topics and discussion topics to embrace and master their career field?


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, USDAgov.

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