connected_computersProfessor Newberry told us that grading discussions can be tough. And I agree! Research tends to agree as well, although most do state that in online classes discussions can be useful.

This week’s assignment gave me the opportunity to practice grading an online discussion using the rubric I posted last week. Professor Newberry thought my rubric was a little long. Now that I used it, I agree. Maybe only three or four categories would have sufficed.

For this assignment we were given a reproduction of an online discussion in the Blackboard “collection” format which collects all posts in a discussion into a single document. My document was 22 pages long and that’s after I removed all the student pictures! I must admit it was hard to follow the entire discussion. But we were responsible for grading only two students. Still, I had to color highlight the two students’ posts so I could keep track of who posted what and when! 🙂


1. Overall, how well did your rubric work?

It wasn’t quite as difficult as I expected, because I think the rubric itself has good categories. But it was still not something I was comfortable or confident doing. That’s because I found it hard to follow the real timeline of the discussion and to figure out who each student was actually replying to. It wasn’t always the person whose post was immediately preceding. Also, since the rubric I used has a promptness category, I decided to grade as though the professor posted the question on August 11 not June 18 or all the posts would have been terribly late.

Student One

Student Two

2. Identify and explain the strengths of your rubric.

Because I had never created a rubric, I slightly modified a rubric developed by Edelstein & Edwards (2002). I felt their categories could be used to objectively score a student’s participation in an online discussion. The creators of this rubric state that the categories are relevant as follows:

  • “Promptness and Initiative” speaks to the student’s ability to participate in threaded discussions in a timely fashion which demonstrates self-motivation. It permits commentary on whether or not the student is actively and consistently engaging in the course content.
  • “Delivery of Post” addresses the student’s attention to detail in terms being grammatically correct with rare misspellings.
  • “Relevance of Post,” permits an objective assessment of the student’s ability to post topics that are relevant to the original discussion, with acknowledgement of references if provided. It addresses the student who stays on topic as well as the student who appears to disengage from the course content.
  • “Expression Within the Post” addresses the issue of how well opinions are expressed and how ideas or comments are presented. This category also allows the facilitator to acknowledge the different writing/expression styles of the students.
  • “Contribution to the Learning Community (LC),” speaks to the assessment of whether or not the student makes an effort to further the development of a collaborative learning experience. It provides distinction between the student who seems relatively indifferent to the building process of a LC and the student who strives to reinforce the LC as the course develops.

3. Identify and explain one weaknesses of your rubric.

While a rubric with five categories and four grading levels can work for online discussions, I think it’s a bit much for a beginning rubric user like me. First of all I need to have only one point possibility for each level. I found myself splitting hairs trying to decide how many points to give in a category. In addition, having five categories, even though all are relevant, can make grading very time-consuming. I couldn’t imagine using this rubric in a large class with a very active discussion board. I was going bleary-eyed assessing just two students!

4. What changes would you make to your rubric now that you have used it?

I would change the grading levels to only possible number and I would combine the categories Relevance of Post and Expression within Post because they seem closely related to me. Here’s my new and improved rubric.

5. Reflect on what you have learned this week. What have you learned that has the potential to inform or influence you or your practice of online learning going forward? Explain why.

Less is better in a grading rubric, not only for the instructor (for all the reasons I stated previously under the “Weaknesses of Your Rubric” section) but also for the students who should be given the rubric as a guideline of expectations with which they can shape their performance and participation. If it’s too complicated for the teacher, imagine how the students will feel when they see it!

Besides this rubric exercise, we had some interesting readings and spirited discussions on how to create excellent discussions and how to assess them. Even though I haven’t been enamored with the format and demands of the online discussion boards in my two classes this semester, I think that’s more a matter of my late-in-life return to school. The readings opened my eyes to the possibilities and potential of online discussion as well as their necessity in an online class. Professor Newberry’s lecture gave some very practical tips on how to create excellent discussions. My outside readings supported his rules of thumb. Creative design, routine timelines, instructor participation, engage the students, and encourage their participation. As I posted in the discussion this week, Judith Boettcher notes that D. Randy Garrison, one of the authors of the Community of Inquiry model, has observed that a key advantage of online learning is that the interaction pattern of online courses tends to be “group-centered” rather than “authority-centered.” The goal should be to supplement learner-centered teaching with group-centered teaching and focus attention on how the group as a whole is moving towards key understandings.  The online discussion forum is the means to that end in an online class

To create the most excellent discussions, Boettcher says the instructors should let the learners know that they have responsibility to “make the group and the learning happen”. Each individual should be asked to (1) embrace the content that is brought to the course, (2) integrate it with their own knowledge, and then (3) create and contribute ideas in a process of knowledge creation and discovery.

It seems to me, when everyone in the learning community is engaged, involved, creative, and contributing, excellence happens.

I appreciated Professor Newberry posting UC Denver’s guidelines and protocols as well. They offered very practical tips that would be useful to incorporate into my own classes if I introduce discussion boards. I’d also like to bring them back to my college’s Technology Based Learning Committee and see if they’d like to create similar documents for our school.

Last but not least we read about and discussed testing and cheating in online classes. Many of my classmates gave examples of cheating methods they’ve come across in their teaching experience. I enjoyed the “red teaming” exercise and am now in a better position to recognize potentially cheatable testing situations.

References

Boettcher, J.V. E-coaching tip 33: what makes a good discussion post? (2012). Designing for Learning. 5 July. Retrieved from http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tips/tip33.html

Edelstein, S., & Edwards, J. (2002). If you build it, they will come: building learning communities through threaded discussions. eLearn Magazine. April. Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=566829


Other Discussion Topics This Week

1. What are ways to create excellent discussions?

Judith Boettcher notes that D. Randy Garrison, one of the authors of the Commuity of Inquiry model, has observed that a key advantage of online learning is that the interaction pattern of online courses tends to be “group-centered” rather than “authority-centered.” The goal should be to supplement learner-centered teaching with group-centered teaching and focus attention on how the group as a whole is moving towards key understandings.  The online discussion forum is the means to that end in an online class

To create the most excellent discussions, Boettcher says the instructors should let the learners know that they have responsibility to “make the group and the learning happen”. Each individual should be asked to (1) embrace the content that is brought to the course, (2) integrate it with their own knowledge, and then (3) create and contribute ideas in a process of knowledge creation and discovery.

When everyone in the learning community is engaged, involved, creative, and contributing, excellence happens!

2. What are the best tools for online discussions?

I was beginning to think that all course related discussions had to go through whatever CMS (aka LMS) that a particular campus has adopted. And I was thinking that the discussion modules of these learning systems just aren’t made for ease of use and realistic discussion. The online discussions quickly become too long with too many threads to follow. They become too time-consuming to monitor and it’s difficult to construct meaningful responses in that environment.

In an article in Hybrid Pedagogy, Morris & Stommel state “There are better forums for discussion than online discussion forums. The discussion forum is a ubiquitous component of every learning management system and online learning platform from Blackboard to Moodle to Coursera. Forums have become, in many ways, synonymous with discussion in the online class, as though one relatively standardized interface can stand in for the many and varied modes of interaction we might have in a physical classroom.”

The authors argue that learning module discussion board are not at all like in-class discussion and that they don’t allow for the flexibility needed to promote creative interaction, impulsivity, and spontaneous student engagement. They recommend “hacking” the discussion module and looking at ways to increase the flexibility of the technology used. They say “The best forums for online discussion actively open the world to the student, rather than box her in (technologically, pedagogically).” The authors list several alternative forums that may be used in conjunction with or in place of a school’s standard LMS. Given the limitations I’ve seen in Blackboard and Sakai, these are worth looking into.

Disqus: The Disqus platform allows forum-like threaded discussions to be embedded in a blog post or any other web page. Think an open-access forum distributed across the web in habitats where discussion arises organically. Disqus uses a single sign-on (and the option to sign on with Twitter or Facebook) that allows teachers and learners to create profiles that include an archive of comments from anywhere they use Disqus. Individual comments can be easily linked to and shared.

Twitter: Twitter can be used both synchronously (in hashtag chats) and asynchronously to engage learners, instructors, and others outside the classroom. It can be used creatively to analyze literature, build community, and even do collaborative work. Twitter encourages sharing of links and dynamic exchanges of ideas. While some might argue that the 140-character limit doesn’t allow for deep inquiry, we disagree. Twitter, rather, becomes a tool for a collective inquiry, creating depth through the metonymic relationship between tweets and between tweets and what they link to.

Vanilla Forums: Vanilla forums is an open source forum tool that strips away much of the more elaborate functionality of traditional discussion forums and keeps the focus on the interactions as opposed to the interface. The system relies on robust search for navigation rather than an excessive flurry of nested folders or drop-down menus. Vanilla Forums can be embedded inside other sites and plays nice with social media.

Facebook: The closed nature of the Facebook network makes it less ideal for class-related conversation. It’s not really a good idea (and a FERPA red flag) to require students to friend everyone else in a class. A Facebook Page or Group, though, can be used relatively effectively to link to posts created elsewhere and to assemble discussions about them in a single place.

Google+ / Google Hangouts: Google+ can be used similarly to Facebook, but using circles can address some of the privacy issues potentially raised with Facebook. While neither of us uses Google+ extensively in our teaching, Google Hangouts have proven invaluable for synchronous engagement. The drawback of Hangouts being limited to 10 simultaneous video feeds can be addressed by having groups of learners (with or without a teacher) act as a roundtable with a backchannel on Twitter or in the chat box inside the Hangout.

3. What is an innovative way to structure an online discussion?

I like Judith Boettcher’s recommendation to post an open-ended question that asks students for their recommendations and ideas about a particular problem, challenge, or idea. Then encourage them to create postings with these three parts.

Part 1: State what your considered thought or recommendation might be. In other words, answer the question, “What do you think? “

Part 2: State why you think what you think. This is a good place for learners to dig inside their heads, their experiences, their beliefs. It is also a good place for learners to provide references and links to experts, events, or belief statements that share and support their thinking.

Part 3: State what you wish you knew or what problem, challenge will follow or result from the original question.

References

Boettcher, J.V. E-coaching tip 33: what makes a good discussion post? (2012). Designing for Learning. 5 July. Retrieved from http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tips/tip33.html

Morris, S.M. & Stommel, J. The discussion forum is dead; long live the discussion forum. (2013). Hybrid Pedagogy. 8 May. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/the-discussion-forum-is-dead-long-live-the-discussion-forum/

4. What is the most innovative way to cheat on an online test?

Boy, I didn’t realize there were so many ways to cheat! I just assumed the most common would be having someone else take the test for you. I don’t think it’s possible to monitor if other resources are used – other open tabs, other devices, other books – so I am surprised that off-site online tests would even try to disallow that. You’d need a proctor to monitor that, right?

Since my course is all about library skills, the students almost always have to look up answers before they submit them. So having a book or other resource open on another tab (or in print) isn’t an issue in my class. In fact, I had to show my students how to have the worksheet and other tabs open online at the same time.

The cheating that I’ve come across is usually the sharing of documents. One person does the work, saves the document, then shares it with others. I can usually detect the cheaters because the wrong answer is the same on every person’s submission. Or there will be a simple misspelled or misused word that’s the same on several submissions. In the incredibly dumb category are the students who forget to change the name at the top of the page.

This is why it’s important to have the campus dishonesty policy posted so students will know the consequences of cheating and plagiarism. It’s also why I tell my students I don’t really mind if they work together on an assignment. But I also tell them two heads are better than one so I expect them to get everything right.

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