Warning: Grading Discussions Is Bad For Your Health

cross-eyed-cat2

Discussions can be the heart of an online class. In some cases the message boards are the only place where students can freely communicate with each other on a number of focused topics created by you, the instructor.

In the best of worlds students are engaged in lively discussions, thinking critically as well as getting to know their classmates.

Discussions can also be a grading nightmare. Imagine having 8 topics and requiring 3 posts per topic. Times that number by 30 students. Then times that number by how many classes you’re teaching that semester. You’re talking thousands of posts!

If you read and evaluated each and every post you could easily get overwhelmed and wind up like that poor cat in the picture.

Here are my somewhat controversial grading tips to make life easier. If you have an opinion or another strategy that works for you, please share in the comments section.

*Note these instructions are to be used when grading by category, but they can be modified for grading by forum or topic.


1. Don’t worry about releasing the grades to the Gradebook till all of your discussions close (exp. last week of class or end of semester). Or you can use this method to grade weekly.

Theoretically you don’t even have to read any student posts until it’s time to grade, but you’ll want to check in and monitor/contribute to the discussions from time to time.

*If you do postpone the grading till late in the semester make sure you mention to the students that they will have to wait for their grade or they will bug you about it.

2. When the time comes to grade, go into discussions and click “Grade Category” (or “Grade Forum” or “Grade Topic” if you’ve set it up that way)

3. To the right of each student’s name is a column titled “Posts.” Click on the word “Posts” as that will sort the students by number of posts thus making the next part easier.

To get full credit the lets say the students should have at least a total of 24 posts (8 answers and 16 replies to classmates) and you’re giving them 5 points per post max. If a student has a number greater than or equal to 24 in this column put in the max score of 120 in the box to the right. You will adjust this score down if necessary in upcoming steps.

MAKE SURE THE RELEASED CHECKBOX IS UNCHECKED!!! You don’t want students seeing their scores yet as you may be adjusting them down.

If a student has less than 24 posts, just times the number of posts by 5. Exp. If the student posted 10 times give them a max score of 50. Do this for all the students and don’t forget to click save!!!

At this point we haven’t read any student posts yet. You could stop here if you wanted to. If you stop here you are essentially giving your students points strictly for participation. Not the worst thing in the world, but a little shady. If you decide to stop here then check all of the “released” boxes, click save and skip to step 5.

4. Now we are going to make some adjustments. Start at the top and click on the first student’s name. This will only show the posts from that particular student. Lets say the student has the full 24 posts. You can read them all here but to keep your sanity intact just skim them. If it looks like the student put some thought into their posts and you feel they deserve the full points then simply scroll down to the bottom right of the page and click “Next User”

However, If some of the students posts are too short or uninspired exp. “I agree,” or “Churchill was an alien,” then click any one of the links on the right labeled “Grade”This will launch a little pop up where you can adjust the point total down to a number you feel they earned. You can leave a comment if you desire, but it’s totally optional. In the pop up make sure the “Release to Student” box is checked then click “Save Grades”

Now in the bottom right click “Next User” which will bring up the next student. Repeat this same Step 4 process until all of the students are given the correct grade.

5. Now that all the students have been graded go back to the original grading page from Step 3. Make sure you’ve clicked on the “Posts” column link to sort the students by number of posts.Now scroll down to the students who have 0 posts. Put a zero in the box next to their names. Check the “released box” for any remaining students and click save.

You’re Done!!!

Again, you can still do the occasional drop in on the discussions throughout the semester and make a few comments/steer the discussions etc., but you won’t be tearing your hair out with the grading part of it.

Reading and evaluating every single post is not healthy. 

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