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Participation counts for a substantial portion of the overall grade in an online class. (Review the Grading Policy on your Class Home/Syllabus page to see what weight participation carries in your class.) As you know, the Online Education Department posts an announcement explaining the minimum “Participation Requirements” in every online class. However, we strongly recommend that you supplement these generic guidelines by formulating and posting your own, more specific expectations.

In order to assign a grade for students’ participation, you must be able to evaluate the quality of their participation. And as is true for any kind of critique, you need to know what you’re looking for — and so do your students. So it’s important to begin by setting clear expectations.

Expectations for Participation

You might find it useful to include two kinds of expectations:

Basic Protocols might include the following criteria:

  • minimum number of postings
  • a requirement that students respond to their classmates’ comments
  • guidelines about appropriate length for postings
  • specifications as to the timing of postings
  • requirements about proper spelling and/or grammar
  • a requirement that students embed images and videos in their discussion posts (instead of attaching them)
  • a reminder to cite their sources, if they’re borrowing words or ideas

    Download this Example

    Here are some basic guidelines for your discussion posts:

    • Before you post, please take the time to read what everyone else has written, so that your comments are not repeating what one of your classmates has already said. (For suggestions about how to participate effectively in the discussion, see below.)
    • Take the time to organize your thoughts before posting. You want everyone to read and understand your comments, so present them in an organized, easy-to-read manner.
    • Keep your posts focused and succinct — no more than 200 words per post — and stick to one topic at a time. If you have several ideas to bring into a discussion, create a separate post for each one.
    • Give each post a provocative and informative title (in the subject line) that reflects the main thrust of your comments. If you have trouble thinking of a title, your post may be too vague or unfocused, or you may be trying to discuss too many ideas in a single posting.
    • While you are free to express your own opinions, your arguments should always be substantiated with evidence of some sort. Ask yourself, "Why do I think this?" or "How do I know this is true?" Then include your evidence as part of your posting.
    • Avoid posts that offer little more than "I agree." Each discussion posting should offer some new content, aimed at continuing our collective exploration of the topic. Agreeing or disagreeing by itself will not add much to the discussion.
    • End with a question: in order to help your classmates continue the conversation and respond to your comments, end your posting with an open-ended question that invites their perspectives.
    • Remember that a class discussion is not a "chat." While you are welcome to communicate informally with one another as part of a discussion, "chitchat" posts (on the order of "I really loved that movie — what did you think of it?") will not be counted in evaluating your participation.
    • Clean up your text: checking your spelling and grammar, and fix the odd characters that crop up when you paste in text from a word-processing program. Think of your posts as professional communications, and ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable having a prospective employer read your messages!
    • Embed your images. One of your initial assignments is to take the tutorial on formatting discussion posts, which includes information on how to embed images. After the first module, I will expect you to embed all your images in your discussion posts, rather than posting them as attachments. This allows everyone to see the images in connection with your comments, rather having to navigate to a secondary space in order to view them.
    • Observe basic "netiquette" in your postings: keep your tone professional and courteous at all times.

Beyond these basic conventions, it’s also important for you to consider what you want to see in terms of the quality of student comments — and, again, to communicate these expectations to your students. For example, you might require that students do some of the following in their posts, in order to receive a good grade:

  • contribute new ideas or information
  • make appropriate reference to concepts presented in the modules
  • ask relevant follow-up questions
  • support their ideas with examples and/or references
  • summarize/synthesize ideas from multiple sources
  • analyze the significance of information or ideas they present

Once you’ve determined your standards for both protocols and quality, then draft a paragraph (or two) explaining your guidelines and expectations for their discussion participation

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