How to Grade Discussion Boards Efficiently and Get Even Better Conversation from Students

Using discussion boards as you move your traditional F2F class online so you can teach it remotely? I’ve got good news–the easier you make the grading, the better conversations your students will be having. It’s another case of how simpler is better.

This is because frequent intervention from you interrupts their conversations and makes students feel judged, which inhibits engagement. Even using detailed rubrics takes time–and still undermines the conversation. This is because rubrics often (though not necessarily) assume that there is a “right” or “best” way to answer a question–which is the opposite of how good conversations actually work!

Plus, students don’t need you evaluating every word they say. In fact, if you do, they then begin to write for you, not for each other–and that diminishes the quality of conversation. Discussion boards are for discussions between students, and if you intervene–either with excessive commenting or just by letting everyone know that you are grading every word they write–then they will shift to writing what impresses you, not what engages each other. This undermines the learning community and also leads to students giving narrower and narrower answers (the ones they can feel sure will earn them your approval and thus the most credit). You soon end up with dreaded “Great point! I agree entirely!” chains of comments.

Instead of grading every single post students make, assign a holistic discussion board grade for a course. You will still  monitor discussion board to ensure that everyone is  respectful (though a solid reminder of this at the start and the invitation that if students see something inappropriate, they contact you right away often prevent this problem), but avoid commenting within the board if at all possible. This includes NOT promptly correcting them if they say something that is inaccurate; instead, give it a little time for their peers to correct them. (Ideally, though, your prompts aren’t going to invite accurate/inaccurate answers but instead solicit responses that are personal reflections, work-in-progress, or genuinely debatable points. Your feedback on any of these within the discussion board is unnecessary for student growth; instead, if someone says something you really want to praise or feel you must challenge, make a comment that only they can see.)


In the image above, a woman sits with legs outstretched, typing on a laptop positioned on her lap.

By Free Stock Photos – hands-woman-legs-laptop, CC0,

Just as you’d never grade every comment a student makes in an in-class discussion, grade their online posts as a whole, not as individual comments. Your LMS likely has a way for you to see all the posts by a particular student in a single view. Every few weeks, review each students’ contributions as a whole and assign a grade–perhaps one that is provisional and can change if they improve, or don’t assign a grade and give written feedback about their overall contributions, not dissecting them point by point but just telling them what they need to do to make better posts in general.

To assign a grade, begin by noting the percent of the required posts they made. If they made all of them, then they begin with full credit. If they began with half, they begin with 50% credit. Then award them the following percent of the posts they made according to the scale below:

  • 100%: Every post was respectful in tone and showed engagement with course content or peers’ previous posts and also encouraged classmates to think more deeply, asked a useful question, pushed the conversation in new directions, or otherwise made the class better because of the student’s work.
  • 90%:  Almost all posts met the description above.
  • 80%: Most posts met the description above.
  • 70%: Some posts met the description above, but many did not.
  • 60%: Few posts met the description above; most did not.
  • 50%: None or almost none of the posts met the description above.

So if someone only posted 75% of the required posts but they were all excellent, they’d earn a 75% on the assignment. If someone else posted 100% of the required posts but they were only mediocre, then they would earn a 70%.

(And, of course, if this point distribution doesn’t make sense for your class, adjust it.)

Point is: Even if you had all the time, resources, and training you needed to put together an excellent online class, you shouldn’t be commenting excessively on their contributions to discussion because doing so stifles rather than enhances conversation.

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