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Some background on "topics"

What do we mean by “topics”?

In the Academy’s online learning system, the term topic refers to a space within the Discussion where some sort of activity takes place. Students submit homework or discuss ideas in topics; instructors can also use topics to communicate key information and resources, to grade assignments, or to post grades for graded categories that do not directly relate to the submission of work.

Why use global topics?

Instructors can create two kinds of topics for their classes: section topics and global topics. Global topics have two key properties that make them your best choice when you are adding graded topics to your class.

  • First, if you are teaching multiple sections of a class, any global topics you create for one section will be available in your other sections — so you don’t have to create the topics multiple times for multiple sections.
  • And even better, the global topics you create for your class this semester can be reused next semester — again, you only have to create them once!

Learn more about topics: Setting Up Your Discussion

Why might I need to create graded topics?

Online Classes

In most online classes, graded topics are created as part of the course development process. This means that most of the Gradebook set-up is already done for you. You will only need to create additional graded topics under special circumstances.

In a few older classes (which use global topics instead of automatically-generated course topics) you will need to update your graded topics (once) to associate them with the correct category.

In some cases, you might need to create or edit topics in order to grade such intangible elements as participation and professional behavior. Or, say, if you find your students need additional practice in some area, creating a graded global topic would allow you to add an exercise to the class. New topics can be added at any point during the semester.

Keep in mind, though, that you can only create graded topics for categories that already exist in your class’s grading breakdown. If your grading breakdown does not include a category for exercises, for example, you will not be able to create graded exercises.

Onsite classes

If you are teaching onsite, the first time you use the Gradebook with your class, you will need to create graded global topics for every element of student work that you need to grade.

These topics will include a grading interface where you can post grades for assignments, projects, tests, participation, and the like. In subsequent semesters, you will be able to reuse the topics you create.

How do I customize my course topics?

As a general rule, course topics permit only minimal customization.

  • You can set opening, closing, and due dates. You can specify the default layout for a topic and set it as public or private.
  • You cannot update the topic description directly. Instead, you can use the Instructor Update field to provide additional information.

We recommend that you review the grading criteria included with any quarterly grading topics on your list. You cannot edit this information directly. If you have concerns about the grading criteria — or about grading on a quarterly basis instead of weekly — talk with your director as soon as possible.

How do I create or edit graded topics? 

0. preliminary step — for Onsite classes Only

If you are teaching onsite and have not previously used the online Discussion for your class, you must activate it in order to create topics for grading. On your Home page, simply click the link to “Add Online Discussion” for the relevant course. When the pop-up window opens, click the blue button to “Add Discussion.” Learn more: Activating an Online Discussion for an Onsite Class

1. navigation

  • To create a global topic, enter your class and navigate to the Discussion page.
  • Click the tab for Global Topics.
    (Reminder: While it is possible to create graded topics from the Current Topics page, topics you create here will be specific to this section and this one semester only. To make sure you only have to create topics once, start from the Global Topics page.)
  • On the Global Topics page, you will see any topics that have already been created for this class. The little globe icons designate these as global topics — that is, instructor-created topics.
    • To edit an existing topic, click the "View / Edit" link under the Action menu for that topic.
    • To create a new topic, click Add Global Topic.

NOTE: Adding a graded topic will automatically update the math for that category — for example:

If there are 4 topics in a category, each is worth 25%  of that category.

If there are 5 topics in a category, each is worth 20%  of that category.

2. defining a global topic

When you create or edit a topic, you will need to specify its parameters.

2a. Select a Module: If you are creating a topic for Module 2, you will need to select Module 2 from the drop-down. When you choose a module, the system automatically updates the open and close dates for the topic to match those of the specified module. If you are teaching onsite, you may want to adjust the topic dates to match the timing of your weekly class.

  • Associating a topic with a module ensures that the grades you post here will be counted toward the appropriate progress grade. (See Grading with the Gradebook for details on which modules count toward which progress grades.)
  • The module association also makes the topic appear on the course outline under that module.

2b. Basic Options for Topics (Learn more about these options: Setting Up Your Topics)

  • Give the topic a title.
  • Specify the default layout for the topic.
  • Choose whether the topic should be public or private.

2c. Define Grading Options: Under Topic Type, you will specify whether or not this topic is graded.

i. If this topic is not going to be graded, then click the radio button for Other Topic. A non-graded topic might provide space for additional discussion or an icebreaker or sharing important information — or any other interaction that will not be graded.


ii. If this is to be a graded topic, then you must specify what kind of activity is being graded here.

Option A: Are students going to submit work in this topic? (i.e., is this a topic where students will make posts or upload some sort of homework?)

Select Graded Topic. This is the correct setting for exercises, assignments, projects, presentations, and the like. It would also be the appropriate setting for a graded discussion.

When you select this topic type, a due date is added to the open and close dates. By default, the due date matches the close date — and both match the last day of the selected module — but you can extend the closing date to allow more time for peer discussion of work. (Learn more about topic dates: Setting Up Your Topics)

Option B: Do you need a topic simply as a place to enter grades? (This would be a topic where you can assign grades in categories that relate to students’ behavior but that are not immediately connected to the submission of work. Effectively, this topic is simply a grading interface; no one can post in this type of topic.)

Choose Additional Grade

    • This is the appropriate setting for categories like participation or vocabulary mastery or professional behavior.
    • This is also the approach to use for quarterly grading when you don’t want to grade a category on a weekly basis.
    • This is also the right setting if you need a place to enter grades for assignments in onsite classes, when your students are not posting their work online.
    • Topics of this type will be listed on your Outline and on the main Discussion page under the heading of “Additional Grades.”

2d. Select a Category: For graded topics, you must select the category with which that topic is associated, so that the grades you enter in this topic are properly weighted in the Gradebook.

  • The only categories available in the drop-down are those that were defined in the grading breakdown.
  • You cannot add new categories but can only assign a topic to an existing category.
  • When you add a topic to a category, the Gradebook automatically adjusts its calculations to incorporate this new graded activity.

2e. Add a Description: Enter the instructions for this activity in the Description field. This might be instructions for an assignment or a discussion prompt; for non-submission grading, you might post a rubric or simply describe your grading standards for the behavior being assessed.

2f. Submit!

Do I need to update my existing global topics?

If your online course uses global topics for any of its graded activities, you will need to do a one-time update to ensure that each of your existing graded global topics is assigned to the proper category. Without a category, the Gradebook will not be able to properly incorporate the grades you assign in these topics.

Here's how:

  • Open the Global Topics page. Here you will see any global topics that have already been created for this class. Any topic in which you will be assigning grades must be updated.
  • Click the "View / Edit" link under the Action menu to open the topic editing interface.

  • Find the section of the interface where you can specify the Topic Type and confirm that the radio button is selected for Graded Topic.
  • Select the appropriate category from the drop-down. Remember that the category options are determined by the grading breakdown for your class. You cannot assign a category that is not already part of the breakdown.

  • Click Submit to save your changes.

Follow this same procedure to update all the other graded global topics on your list.

How will I grade intangibles like participation?

In reviewing your class grading breakdown, you may have noticed one or more categories that relate to students’ behavior but which are not directly connected to the submission of work. These might be categories like participation or vocabulary mastery or professional behavior.

These categories must be graded, but what’s the best way to do this? Here's the key question: How often will you post grades in these categories?

Please Note: In most online classes, your department will have already made a decision about the frequency of grading participation and similar categories, and the course topics have been set up accordingly. 

Check to see whether your discussion topics, for example, are graded by opening one or more of them and looking to see whether the big blue button at the top says "Grade Topic" or "Activity."

If your discussion topics are not graded, check your list of Pending Topics to see whether quarterly grading topics have already been created.

here are the options for grading these categories:

Option #1: Grading every week

In some classes, instructors assign a grade for discussion or participation every week.

If this is your approach, then your discussion topics must be graded — and you will need to enter a grade for every student in each of these discussion topics.

Option #2: Grading before each progress grade deadline (quarterly grading)

Another approach is to assign discussion grades before each quarterly grading period, instead of doing it every week. This can also be a good option for grading other non-submission categories, such as vocabulary mastery or professional behavior. And in some classes, it might be a way of grading exercises. This approach allows you to assign a grade to behaviors that students have demonstrated over several modules.

With this method, your individual discussion topics will not be graded. Instead, you will use a quarterly grading topic to post grades for this activity before each progress grading period.

The quarterly grading topics will include grading criteria, so students understand what is expected of them. Learn more: Sample Discussion Participation Rubrics

We recommend that you review the grading criteria included with any quarterly grading topics on your list. Keep in mind that you cannot edit this information directly. So, if you have concerns about the grading criteria — or about grading on a quarterly basis instead of weekly — talk with your director as soon as possible.

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