Rubrics for Discussion Posts

Hierarchy of Instructional Design
Hierarchy of Instructional Design (Photo: jrhode)

I gave a presentation today on discussion forums. I know that LMSs are old-fashioned now in the post web 2.0 social media world, but my goal as an instructional designer is to at least get the best use or best practices out there for whatever tools are available and being used by any particular school or institution. The presentation is in about 3 parts. The first talks about why we use discussion assignments. The second looks at the characteristics and practices that make for a successful discussion assignment, and the third talks about assessment. Oh yes, there is a fourth part: we actually went into Sakai and looked at the “Discussion Forums” tool which is the old open source forum “JForum.” I prefer that tool over the generic Sakai “Forums” tool because I find “Discussion Forums” easier to grade and manage. I get where things are and why. The profile in “Discussion Forums” is easier to use than the Profile tool in Sakai which is NOT integrated with the Forums tool or any other tool for that matter. But my point is that the how and why of using a particular tool, the pedagogy implied by the assignment, and the assessment of the assignment is more important than the tool itself.

Map of income distribution in Salinas.
Map of income distribution in Salinas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So in this workshop, I present a rubric for discussion posts. Most other teachers and instructional designers ask me about this. Why in a Facebook world do I need a rubric for discussion posts? Isn’t this very mid 90s? Well, it is. Despite the “Millennial” thinking about students, we have a lot of students who do not know what the internet and online communication is really all about. I know this flies in the face of the “Net Generation” fallacy (where you take the recreational habits of the upper middle class/rich kids of your Ivy League school and try to extrapolate what is happening in the rest of the 99% world with technology and learning). I first developed my rubric for discussion posts around my rubric for blog posts when I was teaching English at Hartnell College in Salinas. Many of my students where first generation college students and the Spanish speaking children of migrant farm workers. Many of them did not have consistent high school experiences. A few had diplomas, some GEDs and many had incomplete educations because they moved around a lot. (According to the standard commercial English textbooks, these kids are ready for Shakespeare and Milton.) How are these students supposed to know what is expected of them in an online environment? Easy. You talk to them. You frame the question in terms that they are familiar with. You ask them about what the expectations we might have in a conversation in a classroom versus the cafeteria or at home. I told the students about the rubric and discussed what was in it and why and then we negotiated. Some were familiar with internet chats and wanted to know about “flame wars.” We negotiated the points involved. We talked about what is a substantial reply versus superficial (like “great post”). So instead of imposing a list of seemingly arbitrary rules – the students made the guidelines their own. They now had a set of expectations for their interactions with one another and my grading. We referred to the rubric for about 5 weeks, and once we were sure that things were working – it slowly faded away. I think that is success.

I have a copy of my rubric here.

Here is a copy of my presentation as well:

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