Discussion again?  Yeahhhh because discussion is what adds a human element to our online courses and makes them real.  Without communication, why would students even need us?  They could just complete a bunch of self-taught modules and click send to submit their own grades to the registrar.  We teach to communicate knowledge to students and to allow students to communicate their own learning and knowledge to us and to other students.   Having said that, it is important to assure that online discussion maintains an academic quality thus many/most of us assess it. 

Students do not come to us knowing how to do an academic discussion. They usually need guidelines with clear expectations and the use of rubrics helps students to meet expectations and faculty to assess the discussion.  There is a brief article from the Pedagogical Repository at UCF that talks about this and shares some sample rubrics (see https://topr.online.ucf.edu/index.php/Discussion_Rubrics) and our own suggestions for good discussion at http://cotecommunity.open.suny.edu/page/online-discussion.

It is important to remember that each class is different when setting expectations. In my Global Issues class students use the ABC method described in blog 2 and must cite sources they use when responding to my posts which explore issues often debated.   Other disciplines will have other formats that work better.  Often trial and error is the best method to determine what works best for students and we all have those “oops, that didn’t work so well” times when we have to regroup and try it again.

So, what is in your rubric?  In my rubric I address:

  • Quality of discussion: ABC method is explained in a handout so students understand how to be respectful of other views, discuss them and add to the conversation.  Using a rubric helps to clarify how quality points are earned. Students know that “I agree” without adding something won’t earn points.
  • Word counts (not appropriate in all disciplines but in my discussions, I do set a minimum to avoid the “I agree” posts).   It works well and students usually go way over the minimum set.
  • Due dates:  due dates help to avoid procrastination so all students must post an original response by the end of Wednesday each week.  They then must offer additional discussion and discussion must take place on two separate days to avoid “hit and run” posting in which students make comments to others but never respond to the responses.  I require that all posts for credit are done during the week in which we are talking about a topic and no credit or make-up is allowed for discussion posted after the end of that week.
  • Citation:  students need to offer support for their original response to my post and this must be cited.  We are talking about controversial issues and “opinion” is not what I want to see. I want students to think critically about how their opinions were formed and to be able to support them with valid sources. This also serves another purpose.  Today’s students often have very poor writing skills. I have students who have never written a paper though they are juniors and seniors and do not know how to cite. Citing discussion helps me to work with these students to develop those skills and this in turn helps them to avoid plagiarism reports being filed on the papers that are assigned.
  • Quality of writing: I do take deductions for “texting lingo” etc. and students are expected to approach the writing as formal.  In my classes “you” is not u, and spelling errors that spell checking pics up do see deductions.

Helping students to understand what you want to see in discussions is important and using a rubric clarifies the expectations and helps students to achieve success in the discussions.  I am totally impressed and often amazed by the quality of discussion my students offer in the online classroom and can honestly say the discussions are of a quality that would occur between colleagues.  


I have shared mine; now what about you.  Everyone has methods to share that might benefit other faculty members.  How do you assure and assess discussion in your classes?

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Created by Alexandra M. Pickett Aug 19, 2010 at 11:52am. Last updated by Alexandra M. Pickett May 20, 2020.

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