ScriptoPro Blog

Assessing Online Discussion

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What is a discussion board?

These are electronic message boards for asynchronous communication, also commonly referred to as web forums, message boards, discussion boards, discussion groups and bulletin boards. The discussion is started by one member by posting a topic and other members reply. This allows members of the same group to share information and ideas. This feature in online courseware gives the instructor the opportunity to post topics for discussion and provides the students a tool for responding. Each topic is referred to as a “thread.  The discussion usually occurs by means of organized topics and subtopics in order to help searching.

Why require participation on discussion boards?

-Students are more likely to utilize critical thinking skills.

-Students participate more regularly and in a more thoughtful manner than they would normally do in a face-to-face instructional setting, especially in large-enrollment classes.
-Students develop a stronger class community.
-Students are more likely to cite research and class readings.
-Students achieve greater cognitive and exploratory learning.
-Students benefit from more individualized learning without instructors having to provide individualized instruction.
-Students have a greater sense of race and gender-based equality.
-Students have access to more material and content not available in a lecture.
-A forum is available at all times of day or night to accommodate school, work, and family demands.

As an instructor, how often should I post?
One of the best responses we have seen to this question is by Cheryl Hayek in the article Faculty Focus: How Many Faculty Discussion Posts Each Week? A Simply Delicious Answer.

“One of the most frequently asked questions from veteran and novice online faculty alike is, “How many weekly discussion posts should I contribute?” The reality is, there is an intricate balancing act to achieve the coveted “guide on the side” role in discussion forum facilitation. At the onset of weekly discussion, outstanding online instructors wait cautiously to ensure that peer interactions and student self-discovery have the time to flourish. Then, at precisely the right point, they add several probing responses, invoking relevance and scholarship into the discussion. Concomitantly, they vigilantly strive to avoid omniscient, overbearing, or evaluative posts that inhibit future participation. This professional dialogue continues in this way throughout the length of the discussion, where sustained interaction becomes a rich environment for critical thinking to flourish” (Hayek).

How does one assess discussion?
John Orlando (How to Effectively Assess Online Learning) offers basic criteria that are often used to grade an original posting:  1. Completeness: The posting demonstrates an understanding of the range of the question. 2. Depth: The posting should move beyond a surface understanding to demonstrate comprehension on a deeper level. 3. Originality: The best discussion is one that carries the students into areas not covered in the course material. Original postings are the drivers of new insights.

Others use rubrics to assess the quality of student discussion. Many times, simple is best because it is easy for students to master and easy for instructors to grade.

A 3-point discussion rubric can be as follows:

  • Up to 1 point for original thought / contribution (perspective not previously posted)
  • Up to 1 point for development of thought ( full explanation, detail, insight; this usually requires a couple of paragraphs or more to accomplish )
  • Up to 1 point for responding to posting of others

Instructors, mentors, and students should take advantage of the flexibility that discussion forums provide. With the introduction of forums for student-lecturer interaction, communication between these groups of people has become easier as students will be able to participate in the online discussion and contribute their opinion in any subject matter of their choice without being shy or afraid of making contributions to topics of discussion. ScriptoPro allows instructors to include a discussion forum when setting up class pages. This feature is now optional but highly encouraged in terms of the benefits it provides.

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