Grading Online Discussions

Grading Online DicsussionsGrading Online Discussions Using Rubrics

Scott Warnock, PhD | Associate Professor of English, Drexel University | Director, Drexel Writing Center and University Writing Program

This post originally appeared on Online Writing Teacher. C4E wishes to thank Professor Warnock for allowing us to repost here.

 “But how do I evaluate message board posts and grade online discussions?”

Grading Online DicsussionsThat’s a question I’m often asked when talking with colleagues about using the flexible, user-friendly technology of message boards in their courses. For some time, I’ve been refining a rubric for discussion posts. Below, I share that rubric.

It’s unlikely you’ll grade every post with the actual rubric, since students will write so many message board posts each term. The idea is to share this with students so the evaluation of this key course component is transparent, opening up ways of having a dialogue about course assessment.

A few quick notes about the rubric. It has 12 categories. The bottom eight will look mostly familiar to you. They are based on writing areas like purpose, organization, evidence, and mechanics, and each has five levels of performance, correlating with a grade. But the rubric is specifically for asynchronous, dialogic writing, and the criteria reflect this. For instance, the “Audience and context” criterion is geared toward how the poster/post interacts with others; that helps me encourage conversation. “Originality/creativity” is because I overtly want to encourage students to embrace risk and creativity in their writing.

The first four categories look somewhat different. These are binary categories, for things that I view as either “it’s there or it ain’t.” They help me define things like timeliness and communicate my interest in ethics.

Communicate. The rubric, as I said, is designed to help me communicate with students, providing us all with a way to share an understanding of expectations in this environment.

grading online discussionsGeneral criteria

Gross mistakes. Either “There are no gross mistakes in the post” or “There are excessive errors or some other gross mistakes that cause readers to doubt the effort/expertise of the document’s creator; these posts score no better than 60%”

Ethics. Either “The post appears ethical, including its use of evidence” or “Some aspects of the post are unethical; for example, it uses inappropriate evidence (including plagiarism); recommends morally questionable practices; attacks others; or uses deceitful data; these posts may fail”

Timeliness. Either “The post is on time” or “Late post; late posts lose 20% of their grade for each week they are late”

Length: Either “Post length is appropriate; longer posts are welcomed” or “Post is too short; short posts lose 20% of their grade; excessively short posts count only as “peeps””

Writing criteria

Purpose/Main idea/Focus
A: Clear main idea that raises an excellent, focused point
B: Clear main idea that raises an interesting point
C: Loses focus; main idea is questionable
D: Why did the writer create this post?; main idea seems uninteresting and perhaps even unreasonable
F: Main idea is unfocused and unclear; off topic

A: Excellent organization; clear topic sentences; transitions between ideas are handled well
B: Organized effectively but could be refined/ tightened a bit (better topic sentences, transitions, etc.)
C: Adequately organized; needs better division between ideas. Note: One-paragraph primary posts receive a maximum of B
D: Disorganized; little coherent structure; confusing
F: Completely disorganized

A: Relevant, correctly cited evidence; quotes from posts
B: Relevant evidence; some citing issues
C: Adequate evidence; citations are wrong
D: Evidence not used or used incorrectly
F: No evidence

Audience and context
A: Clearly connected to other posts and conversations
B: Relevant to other posts and conversations
C: Not clearly connected to other posts; unclear if writer read other posts; repetitive; does not build the conversation much
D: Highly repetitive; not connected to other posts and conversations; may attack other posters; does not build the conversation at all
F: Irrelevant to conversation; makes no effort to connect with audience; flaming

A: Highly engaging, distinct writing style; solid sentences and word choice; may take productive risks
B: Solid writing style; writer could have written more clearly/more concisely
C: Some of the writing is awkward and clumsy; weak word choice or unsophisticated sentence structure
D: Writing is awkward, repetitive, and/or wordy; the writing was not engaging
F: Writing style is inadequate for a college-level assignment

Grammar and mechanics
A: Few errors, if any; writer shows considerable mastery of the language
B: Some grammatical/ mechanical errors, but they do not interfere with the reader’s understanding of post
C: Numerous errors that interfered with the reader’s understanding of the post
D: Many errors that made the post difficult to understand; reader questions writer’s credibility and skill
F: Post is filled with errors; reader doubts writer’s competency

arrows-in-target-432x288Originality/ creativity
A: Highly original or creative; may take a productive writing risk
B: Some originality or creativity, but doesn’t push the limits
C: No real originality
D: Repeats other ideas or posts’ reader may not have read other posts
F: Blatantly copies other posts

Understanding of course material

A: Clearly demonstrates understanding of course material
B: Good understanding of course material
C: Some of the course material details are incorrect
D: Low understanding of course material
F: Poor understanding of course material; some errors

Dear readers: do you use online discussion forums in your teaching? How do you handle grading online discussions? Do you have any tips for grading online discussions? Please share with us and with our community of college instructors.

Scott Warnock
I am an associate professor of English and Director of the Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum at Drexel University. I teach first-year writing and courses such as Writing in Cyberspace, The Literature of Business, and The Peer Reader in Context. My research interests focus on uses of technology in writing instruction, particularly how learning technologies can help student writers and facilitate better methods for faculty to respond to student work. I am the author of Teaching Writing Online: How and Why and numerous book chapters and articles. I have spoken about teaching and technology issues and opportunities at many national conferences, and I am Co-Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee for Best Practices in Online Writing Instruction. Complete Biography and list of publications here:

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