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Grading online discussions

Posted at 3:27 p.m. Jan. 18, 2012, by in News

Online discussion forums were a popular topic at the inaugural eLearning Conference this past April, most likely because they are a tool you can use whether you’re teaching face-to-face, hybrid, or online courses, as long as you’re utilizing Sakai or eCollege.

Why are online discussions beneficial?

  • Online discussions are an opportunity for students to participate in class in a non-threatening environment, where they can consider and revise their responses before posting.
  • They allow all students to participate, instead of only a consistent handful of students who are willing to raise their hands in class.

Many Rutgers-Camden faculty members have shared their successes with online discussions. However, it’s important to conduct online discussions correctly in order to experience these successes. According to a study conducted in 2010 by Beckett, Amaro?Jiménez, and Beckett found that:

  • Students were disappointed when there was little or no participation by instructors in discussion boards.
  • Students felt frustrated when grading expectations were unclear.

Grading online discussions

Faculty experiences have shown that online discussions are most productive when required as part of the course grade and graded with clear expectations. Grading can be done using discussion rubrics. Rubrics help clarify the expected quality of student work by describing what a contribution should contain. Rubrics can contain criteria such as number of postings, quality and/or originality of content, and even references to course lectures or readings.

Examples of discussion rubrics:


References and further resources

Aimee DeNoyelles, Kelvin Thompson, Amy Sugar, Jessica Vargas and Baiyun Chen (2013). Discussion Rubrics. In K. Thompson and B. Chen (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved June 30, 2014 from
Beckett, G., Amaro-Jiménez, C., and Beckett, K. (2010). Students’ use of asynchronous discussions for academic discourse socialization, Distance Education, 31:3, 315-33. DOI:
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