Saturday, March 3, 2012

Logistics: assessing online discussions

Moodle provides a wonderful variety of discussion forums – they provide for reflection, engagement, deeper understanding, broad participation, and much else – but the work also needs to be assessed.  Here’s one way to handle it:

I’ve set each discussion forum to send me an email whenever a student posts.  I can read the post on the spot and even click on a reply button in the email.  But I prefer to group replying and grading into clumps, rather than doing them piecemeal.  My replies and assessments are more consistent that way.  But I like to see if there are problems, misunderstandings, or the occasional inappropriate post that I need to address now. 

Replying at one time every day works well – otherwise you’ll feel like you’re being nibbled to death by ducks, and lose a sense of how the discussion is developing.
Since I’m usually looking for students to engage with the question and with each other, and since these are evolving skills, my focus is on formative assessment.  Can I use my replies to coax the student into deeper thought?  Does the student have a question that needs answering?  (Since I teach blended classes, I often bring these items up during F2F class, benefiting both the student who posted and the entire class.)
Moodle forums are a bit cumbersome to grade.   To see the posts in context, one must click on the forum, then on the post to open it (unless using the single, simple discussion).  Then click on Reply and write the reply.  Then click on Post to forum.  Then on Continue.  Then on the name of the forum.  And on to the next student.  But this gives me the flavor of the entire discussion that I don’t get from the emails. 

I keep a blank class list to write comments on and often just use: checkmark, +, or -.  If I’ve asked for replies to at least two classmates, I make checkmarks for these.  Keeping this information in one place for each assignment makes keeping track of student work and coming up with a grade easier.  My grading for most discussions is done/not done, though with loss of points when there is not much effort.  I’m focusing on building confidence and participation.

If I see that there is nothing on the class list/grading sheet for a student, I’ll then go to Participants and pull up the student’s record, which has all their forum posts in one place.  This shows me quickly if the student posted and I somehow missed it (perhaps the student replied to somebody else when they were supposed to create a separate thread). 

My school has an online gradebook, Gradequick, so I mostly use that gradebook rather than Moodle’s.  It takes about a minute to enter one class’ grades there.

I wish there were a quicker way to get through the process of replying to Moodle discussions, so if anybody knows of one, please let me know!