This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on October 26, 2017. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
Have you ever thought, “There has to be a better way!” while grading your online learners’ discussions? It is no secret that grading student discussions is time consuming, laborious, and tedious, considering the disproportionate amount of time required to give solid, quality feedback on a large volume of discussion. On the learner side, students often do not use the rubric to craft their discussions or read and use feedback to improve. This adds to the frustration and can make grading learners’ discussions feel like a waste of time. Fortunately, a better way exists: engage and empower your students by having them grade their own discussions!
Discussion self-grading is an innovative, unconventional, and creative learning method. It empowers learners to improve by employing adult learning principles outlined in the theory of andragogy and reflective learning. These principles encourage learners to be self-directed and responsible for their own learning (Knowles, Holston, & Swanson, 2015), and that serves to motivate the learner. Learners engage in their own learning process with internal motivation and are allowed to maintain control.
Discussion self-grading also requires reflection on experiences, beliefs, knowledge, one’s self, and practices with the goal of improving (Kember, McKay, Sinclair, & Wong, 2008). Reflection is an important lifelong skill for life, career, learning, and problem solving. It helps people improve both performance and practice in all facets of life. In the case of discussion self-grading, as learners engage in grading their own discussions, they reflect upon their discussion performance. Learners discover their mistakes and accomplishments, learn what they can improve and how, and are motivated to do better in the future.
Learners may also reflect on the posting’s topic and content and here, too, engage in reflective learning as they revisit their writings. As for the traditional problem of learners not using the rubric, learners must employ the rubric to grade their discussions and thus become both more familiar with the rubric and the importance of following the rubric’s criteria. With this comes improved discussion performance.
Implementing discussion self-grading is fairly straightforward and consists of three basic steps:
Step 1: Create a discussion self-grading rubric
The first step in implementing discussion self-grading is to create a rubric. A discussion self-grading rubric serves as a measuring tool by which learners evaluate their performance. Evaluation criteria should reflect the performance areas that the instructor deems important and necessary, as well as a breakdown for quality with a score for each level of performance. For example, the rubric could contain items for content of initial posting; content of responses to others’ postings; discussion timeliness and interaction such as number of responses to others; spelling, grammar, sentence format; and correct APA format. The rubric can then break down each criterion into definitions for each performance level with accompanying points for each as a scoring strategy. For instance, the criterion for timeliness and interaction could break down into one point for making posts on two different days, with the initial response and responses to others’ postings completed by the due date: .75 point for a late first post and/or for posting everything on one day only with responses to at least two peers’ postings, .5 points for responding to only one peer’s posting, and zero points for not replying to or providing minimal comments or information to other participants.
Step 2: Create a discussion self-grading quiz
After creating a rubric, you must provide a means for learners to score themselves on each of the rubric criteria. A self-grading quiz works well for this purpose. Start by creating one question for each criterion. If for example there are five criteria, there should be five questions. The criterion forms the stem of the question, and each of criteria can be used for each of the performance levels (see example below).
Which of the following best reflects your participation, timeliness and interaction in discussion according to the discussion Rubric?
- Makes postings on at least two different days (Wed initial post due by 11:59PM). Responds to at least 2 peers’ postings and reads all posts in assigned group (1 point)
- Late first post and/or posts everything 1 day only. Responds to at least 2 peers’ posting and reads all posts in assigned group (.75 point)
- Responds to only 1 peer posting (.5 point)
- Does not reply to or provides minimal comments and information to other participants (0 points)
You should create one quiz for each discussion: for instance, you would create one quiz for each unit or week. Setting the quiz to automatically export to grades is helpful in automatically populating the grade area with scores. Providing several days for learners to complete the discussion helps provide adult learners with flexibility. For example, you can set up the discussion self-grading quizzes to start after the discussion begins and end a few days after the last discussion responses are due with the due date shown in the calendar as a reminder. Not setting a time limit and allowing multiple attempts in case of “mistakes” is also an adult-learner-friendly practice.
Step 3: Create instructions for learners
Last, creating and communicating a set of clear instructions for learners is paramount to understanding and success. Instructions can be both written and explained in a live or recorded video. Adult learners need to know the why, what, and how (Knowles, Holston, & Swanson, 2015). An explanation of adult learning (andragogy) and the importance of developing skills of reflection for reflective learning and self-growth can serve as the “why.” Explaining the rubric and its importance serves as the “what,” and explaining the quiz serves as the “how.” Providing a practice discussion self-grading quiz and demonstration are likewise helpful. Furthermore, informing learners regarding the expectation of honesty—including instructor audits and consequences for dishonesty—is also important.
Faculty and student feedback on discussion self-grading have been extremely positive. This article’s authors have used discussion self-grading with hundreds of students to date and have found that learners were largely honest and accurate. Moreover, they found that discussion quality improved significantly over instructor grading, particularly after the first week. Faculty also found that discussion self-grading encourages reflective learning skills and empowers students. Learner frustration decreased, and satisfaction increased. Learners paid increased attention to detail in both discussions and assignments—in other words, the attention paid to the rubric through discussion self-grading appeared to have carried through to other assignments. Most learners completed the self-grading quiz on time, and the need to reopen the quiz for students who forgot to complete it was infrequent. Another positive was that discussion self-grading allowed faculty to have more time for other course needs such as grading major assignments and developing and refining course materials and structure. Unsolicited learner feedback was likewise positive; students said that it was a great way to learn.
Laura M. Schwarz is an associate professor of nursing at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Nancyruth Leibold is an assistant professor of nursing at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Kember, D., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., & Wong, F. K. Y. (2008). A four-category scheme for coding and assessing the level of reflection in written work. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(4), 363–379. doi: 10.1080/02602930701293355
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The adult learner: The definitive class in adult education and human resource development. (8th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.