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Grading Online Discussions

Teaching Goal:

To incorporate an assessment strategy for online discussions that emphasizes their importance and maximizes student participation.

Benefits of Addressing - Research and Theoretical Base

Online discussions pose an opportunity for rich and meaningful student learning and interaction. A grading scheme that reflects this lets students know their active and regular participation is not only important to you, but should be important to them as a means of learning course content and making connections between topics.


myWPI offers a discussion board grading tool that is integrated with the gradebook. You can grade threads or forums in a discussion board.

Requiring Online Discussions?

Requiring students to post to the discussion board is the first step. The general rule is that participation should count from 15-20% of the final grade in order for it to have the best effect on levels of student participation.

But participation alone is not enough when assessing the postings your students make. The quality of those postings can and should be assessed. Here are several general considerations when assessing student postings:

  1. Require students to post a minimum number of times to demonstrate that they have visited and revisited the material and conversations over several days. Often times, students go the discussion boards once a week, post a flurry of messages, and then never return to read any responses to their postings. Requiring students to post over several days encourages them to read and respond to the range of responses.
  2. Online discussion boards facilitate student reflection. As such, postings to the discussion boards should demonstrate a thoughtful approach to the content.
  3. Research indicates that when using online discussion boards, students are more likely to cite research and class readings in their responses. Use this to your advantage by calling for the use of supporting evidence in student postings.
  4. Students should incorporate quotes from other student responses as a way of synthesizing and extending the conversation.

Rubrics are a fantastic way to formally assess online discussions. Here are three sample rubrics you might consider using:

Sample Rubric 1

Each week your discussion board postings will be graded on a 10 point scale:

Original Posting(s) - 7 points

Your original posting(s) each week should...

Responses to Other Student Postings - 3 points

Your responses to other students and the instructor should...

Sample Rubric 2

Discussion Rubric

Participating 3 times during the week is measured by postings on 3 different days; you may actually make 5-6 postings, but participation only occurred 3 times during the week.

A Discussion (9-10 points) - participated 3 times, minimum of 5 posts

A-level postings...

B Discussion (7-8) - participated 2 times, minimum of 4 posts

B-level postings...

C Discussion (6) - participated 1 time, minimum of 2 posts

C-level postings...

D-F Discussion (0-5) - participated 1 time, 1 post

D & F-level postings...

Sample Rubric 3

Focused on topic

Clear indication that the response is motivated by the particular reading and that the writer has taken a particular slant on that reading and developed it.

Organization of ideas/thoughts

There is a sense in the response that ideas lead to each other and that there are connections being made.

Critical thinking evident in responses

The response is just not a summary but an attempt by the writer to push toward a particular personal meaning.

Correlations of contributions to assigned readings

The response refers consistently to the reading and to particular ideas and situations within the reading that have made an impression.

Use of other resources/citations

The response makes connections to information, writers, and other texts the writer has read or seen.

Thoughtfulness in interactions

Evidence of college-level thinking that relates the writer’s life to the social environment in which it was written.

Listening to others

The response illustrates that the writer has been paying attention to those who have interesting and provocative things to say.


Few grammar or sentence mechanics errors—none that interfere with the meaning the writer wants to convey.

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Last modified: May 07, 2008, 13:53 EDT
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