Discussion forums

40% of your grade (see making up a discussion thread)

This is really the most important part of the course, which is reflected in the point value: worth 150 out of 500 possible points. Really 200 if you include the writing points. That’s 40% of the class. Hopefully that’s enough to tell you how seriously I take your effort in discussion. This is where you demonstrate that you’re reading, engaging the material (readings, discussion, and online lecture material), and learning. And there’s only one way I can really assess that well—by evaluating your effort and demonstration that you’ve read the material and are making your best efforts to understand and apply it. Students need to participate in the discussion every week to gain points for that week. Here’s what I’ll be looking for:

  • You need to do the discussion while everyone else is doing it (i.e., there is no going back three weeks later); students are entitled to two make-ups, and you can find guidelines for that on the course website.
  • You need to post every week—One major posting for each thread I create in the discussion board for the week, and at least one reply to someone else’s post. This means you could easily have up to six or eight per week (usually I’ll have two questions to frame the week’s discussion).
  • Your posts need to be thoughtful. There are 10 points possible for posting, and 5 points for the quality of the posts. This is somewhat subjective, I agree, but I will be looking for evidence of thought—maybe the post is short, but condensed and full of meaning and significance. I’ll be looking to see that it reflects some preparation and intellectual effort on your part. If I can’t tell for sure that you’ve done any of the readings from your posts, don’t expect full credit. Of course bringing in outside sources you’ve looked up is always a way to score points. So it’s not just length, although it’s very hard to show evidence you’ve been reading and thinking about a topic in a couple of sentences.
  • Citing sources—if you bring in other sources (a great idea, it shows that you’re making connections between course material and the real world), cite them at the end of your post (but cite them completely, using APA or some other common format). It’s just practice, and it will make this a more automatic process for you and improve your paper-writing efficiency.

There are several kinds of postings that can gain you credit:

  • You can pose a question for the group, and then try to answer it or explain why you asked it.
  • You can bring in other research or web resources you’ve found that shed light on a topic we’re discussing.
  • You can summarize a long discussion thread and try to distill it down to one or a few issues.
  • You can reply to others’ postings—either agreeing or disagreeing, the main thing is that you provide evidence and some logical argument to back up what you’re saying.
  • The key is, show me more than your opinion on something—Unsupported statements won’t get you more than a ‘3’ for the quality of your postings for the week.

Points will be based on the following criteria:

  • Your ability to reflect on the questions or the readings/lecture material. To receive full credit, you need to show you’ve not only been through the readings, but understood them and used them as evidence to support your views. If all readers can see is opinion seemingly uninformed by course material, your points will reflect that. You don’t have to agree with the material in class, but you do need to demonstrate you read it and made a good faith effort to understand it.
  • Your grasp of the topic. You don’t necessarily need to show mastery of each reading or topic, but you do need to ask questions where you’re unclear to clarify your understanding and show me you’re putting effort into understanding the material. Again, if you try to do this without referring to the readings or lecture material, I won’t even know if you’ve read it. So ‘I don’t get it’ won’t garner you many points—it shows no effort on your part to try to ‘get it.’
  • Your ability to communicate your ideas. I would like to see good, organized writing. Complete sentences, spell-checked, and all that. If you’re citing something, do it correctly, give us a web page. ‘I agree’ is okay, as long as it’s followed by a well-reasoned explanation of why you agree with a previous post (again, citing evidence).
  • Bringing in outside materials. I encourage this, but I also want you to have evaluated these materials. If it’s the first .com site you found on Google, it may be popular but not necessarily credible.

Civility and respect rule. This is where we discuss, debate and exchange ideas. Civility will prevail. I will deal with personal attacks privately, but firmly, so show self-restraint, civility, and tact—we’re here to encourage everyone to participate, so avoid posting in a way that discourage others from doing so.

  1. You need to post during the week the discussion is taking place This is the beauty of online classes—everybody contributes, it’s hard to hide in the back of the class, everyone has a chance to shine. Generally we’ll begin a new topic on Tuesdays, and run through the next Monday evening. You can make up two weeks (see instructions). But you can’t just go back and post in a completed week.
  2. Follow basic online ‘netiquette.’ Mutual respect is a prerequisite. We certainly don’t have to agree—but we can disagree in a civil way, and use persuasion, logic and evidence to support our own ideas.
  3. If you’re writing a long post, use paragraphs to break up points and, to be safe, you might write it in a word document (and save as you go), and then paste it into Canvas—this will help you avoid the frustration of losing a post you’ve spent considerable time composing.

A note on absences: if you’re going to be out of town or away from the Web for any substantial period of time, you should let me know. If you’re not posting and haven’t contacted me, I’ll just assume you’re not participating in the discussion forum for that week (and that’s 20 points per week—so if, for example, you missed two weeks entirely, your chances of pulling an ‘A’ in the course would be very slim—that’s 40 pts out of a possible 500 for the term). You can make up two weeks, follow the guidelines below.

150 points on this part of the course—15 pts per week (plus 5 possible pts per week for writing)


Writing in discussion boards

You must demonstrate college-level writing in both the website analysis paper and in discussion boards. There will be five points possible each week for writing in the discussion boards, meaning you need to proofread your posts, check for spelling errors, capitalize, all that basic grammar-related stuff, and make sure that they make sense, to get the full five points each week (there will be a separate grade item for this). A ‘5’ means your posts are in order, make sense, thoughts are well-organized, and you’ve probably done some proofreading before hitting the ‘submit’ button. A ‘4’ means you’ve probably done some proofreading, but there are still some pretty glaring errors. ‘3’ means it’s not really clear you’ve proofread the posts for the week. A ‘1’ or ‘2’ indicates your posts have so many errors in them that they’re hard to follow, and in any case readers may not take them as seriously. I do this because writing is just so critical to finding gainful, professional employment, communicating with prospective employers, and we all need to show some self-awareness about our writing. This will show up as a separate grade for each week of the course, 5 points possible per week, 50 points total for the term.

Making up a discussion thread

(you’re entitled to make up two weeks over the course of the term)

Papers should be no longer than 4 pages, double-spaced (11 or 12 pt font) in length. There will be a place to submit them in Canvas. This is how I would like you to structure the make-ups:

  1. What for you were the most important points that you took from the readings, discussion and lecture material for the week? This is an exercise in abstract thinking—what is the ‘big picture?’ Especially so with social theory. Pay attention to the prompts. I want to see what you got out of the readings and the week’s topic, and gauge your depth of understanding. I’m not looking for book reports—do some summary, but your paper should be no more than 1/3 summary (and no less than 2/3 analysis).
  2. Demonstrate you read the discussion forum. I don’t need a play-by-play blow of people’s postings, I just want you to demonstrate you went through the postings, and got something out of the process. How did people respond to the material for the week? What was your take? Just keep in mind—take a stand, but don’t make points if you’re not going to support them with evidence or logic.
  3. Standards. This is making up for your having missed the discussion boards, so I expect the same amount of intellectual effort to go into the make-up. Good writing, use of complete sentences, paragraphs to change ideas, citing of authors’ works at the end. You can submit it to Canvas, just make sure you specify which week you’re making up.
  4. Strategy. If you have to choose, make up the week where you have the most points to potentially gain. This sounds pretty straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people will do one of these to get from a ‘15’ to an ‘18’ (out of 20). Use this to get from a ‘0’ to a ‘15’.