Online Discussions and How to Evaluate Them

If you are starting to dig a bit deeper into the Blackboard realm and its tools, you may be using the discussion feature. In a strictly online course, the ability to have students interact with each other in a discussion becomes all the more important, but the tool can still be useful for in-class courses.

Some of the challenges, however, with discussions are with organization and evaluation. It can be challenging to come up with discussion topics that students will actually want to engage with, not just because they have to. This is why a few of the recommendations in a recent Faculty Focus article on discussion boards were particularly helpful. For example, one great suggestion is to limit the group size. Apparently, smaller group discussions are more effective than larger groups. The suggestion in this case is to limit the group size to about ten people.

Developing rubrics for online discussions can also be a challenge, so I was really pleased to see that Gloria P. Craig, the generous author of the article, was kind enough to share the rubrics she uses for both undergraduate and graduate students. You can see the undergraduate example here:

And should you want to read the article in its entirety to see what other great tips you can pick up, you’ll find it here:

For a more comprehensive look at the idea of online discussions, should you be considering adding them to your courses, check out Cornell University’s page on the topic:

And closer to home, don’t forget about our talented and knowledgeable E-Learning specialists: Jamie Edwards and Carolle Boudreau.


The Why and How of Assessments

As of late, I have had various conversations about assessments: types of assessments, usefulness of assessment, etc. One question that I found interesting to consider was about where learning actually occurs and whether or not we are organizing assessments for reporting or learning. This question was proposed during a webinar that also focused heavily on the idea of assessments being useful. Instead of thinking about what types of assessment to create, the participants in the webinar were encouraged to reflect on how the assessment will be used.

The University of Connecticut has an interesting page on the subject entitled “Why Assessment?”. In particular, they include an interesting quote from Kevin Bain’s (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do about how one learns best:

“People tend to learn most effectively (in ways that make a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way they think, act, or feel) when

  • they are trying to solve problems (intellectual, physical, artistic, practical, abstract, etc.) or create something new that they find intriguing, beautiful, and/or important;
  • they are able to do so in a challenging yet supportive environment in which they can feel a sense of control over their own education;
  • they can work collaboratively with other learners to grapple with the problems;
  • they believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly; and
  • they can try, fail, and receive feedback from expert learners in advance of and separate from any summative judgment of their efforts.”

To read more about the purpose of assessments, as well as review other great resources about the development of assessments, follow this link:

And to read more about Kevin Bain’s book, click here: