Assignments: online

Discussion forums (see making up a discussion thread)

This is really the most critical part of the course. This is the online discussion part of the class in Canvas. I will have very high standards for this portion of the course, and to get full credit you need to post and engage in discussion every week.  This may be different from many online courses you’ve had, but it trips up more students than any other assignment type, so read carefully. Some general rules (also, refer to the course calendar for discussion due dates):

  • Timeliness. You need to do the discussion while everyone else is (i.e., no going back three weeks later, unless there are unusual circumstances you’ve cleared with me first). There is no point in calling it ‘discussion’ if it’s simply a forum for posting. Students are entitled to two make-ups.
  • Weekly requirements. You need to post every week—One major posting responding to the prompt in each thread I create in the discussion forum for the week, and at least one reply to someone else’s post (although more if you’re shooting for A range). This means if you’re shooting for ‘A’ level work, you should have at least six or eight total posts per week (usually I’ll have two questions to frame the week’s discussion).
    • The major post—This one needs to demonstrate you have: done the readings; responded to the prompts in the discussion thread(s); informed your post with source material (assigned readings and the lecture pages); and communicated your ideas in a thoughtful and coherent way. You can’t do this in a few sentences, or even one paragraph. Also, I look favorably on people who bring other relevant sources into the discussion (sources of a high quality and level of credibility).
    • Other posts—Respond to posts in the thread. For full credit, these need to be something you have thought through—gut reactions are, as economists would say, necessary but insufficient. These are discussion forums, so make sure you’re contributing to the discussion in a non-trivial way. I’m looking for evidence of learning, not simply fulfillment of a requirement to receive points. For a given discussion thread, ‘A’ range, I would say 3 thoughtful replies, so pick and choose what ideas/threads you want to contribute to.
  • Intellectual effort. 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 many points. 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 close to impossible to show evidence you’ve been reading and thinking about a topic in a couple of sentences.
  • Citing sources—at the end of a post where you’re discussing a reading, you need to cite the source. I know I know—it seems silly. It’s just practice, and it will make this a more automatic process for you and improve your paper-writing efficiency.  APA style, or mine (see how readings are cited).

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

  • Pose a question for the group, and then try to answer it or explain why you asked it.
  • Provide other research or web resources you’ve found that shed light on a subject we’ve been discussing.
  • Summarize a long discussion thread and try to distill it down to one or a few issues.
  • Reply to others’ postings—agree, disagree, elaborate, ask a clarifying question, etc., the main thing is that you provide evidence and some logical argument to back up what you’re writing.
  • The key then, is to demonstrate intellectual effort well beyond expressing an opinion—unsupported statements won’t earn 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 ideas. If all readers see is opinion seemingly uninformed by course material, your points will reflect that. You’ll quickly learn it doesn’t substitute for thoughtful posts informed by the reading material. That stated, you don’t have to agree with the material in class, but criticism should be preceded by a demonstration of understanding.
  • 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 points—it shows no effort 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, I’ll let you know if I think it’s a suspect source. Don’t just paste in a link—let the class know why they should follow it and how it relates to the discussion. And full citations on outside materials, please (good practice).
  • On opinion. . . Opinions can add obviously to the course. But they should be informed by, and grounded in the course material. Here’s a test they should pass before you hit submit: If the post could have been written by someone walking in off the street who hadn’t read any of the material in the course, consider putting more intellectual effort into it first.

We will practice standard ‘netiquette’ in online discussions. No flaming or trolling, obviously. This is where we discuss, debate and exchange ideas. Civility rules. I will deal with personal attacks swiftly and privately, but firmly. We’re here to encourage participation from everyone.

Worth 30% of overall grade (150 points—15 points per week … and an additional 5 pts/wk for proofreading your posts and replies).