Tips for assessing students and initiating class discussions in online courses

Posted on: April 2, 2013 | By: Sam Parker | Filed under: Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

Online testing.Dr. Cheri Crabb with Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) hosted the second online course discussion group for new online faculty on Friday, March 15.

These discussion groups focus on enhancing face-to-face courses for online environments, and each meeting has an emphasis on a particular topic. This meeting concentrated on testing students via quizzes and exams and enhancing online class discussions.

Dr. Crabb offered tips to new online faculty including Maureen Allen, adjunct instructor of computing sciences, Dr. Stephen Braye, professor of English, and Dr. Scott Buechler, assistant professor of business communications. Below is a summarized list of suggestions she shared on how to modify face-to-face courses for online environments, specifically in regards to online assessments and class discussions.

MORE: Check out tips from the first online course discussion group meeting here.

Tips for Testing: Measuring student knowledge acquisition and application

Construct exam questions that relate to discussion boards, lectures, case studies, and other class activities.

  • By stating you will pull questions from all parts of your course, you can ensure students will read, study, and participate in all aspects of the class, such as discussion boards and case studies.

Diversify your test question types.

  • Ask application, implementation, compare/contrast, dispute, prediction, reflection, and critical thinking questions.
    • By diversifying the types of questions you ask, you can better understand how well or thoroughly your students learned the class material.
      • Tip: An example exam question could ask students to write an essay characterizing the major trends in the art of the Augustan era, using at least three primary sources presented in class. In presenting their characterizations, students could incorporate one topic from any class discussion, too.

Time your tests.

  • By setting strict time restraints on quizzes or exams, you can ensure most students are studying beforehand.
    • Tip: For example, by giving students 30 minutes to complete a 20-question, multiple choice quiz, they understand they must be familiar with the material beforehand. Otherwise, they might run out of time if they have to look up all of the answers online or in their textbooks.

Use other assessment tools besides exams or quizzes to evaluate students.

  • Use at least two other methods of assessment to gauge students’ knowledge acquisition and comprehension.
    • Tip: Have students create presentations via Skype, write essays, construct reflection papers, write journal compositions, create webpages with video or images, type blog posts, formulate PowerPoint presentations with audio and/or video, write digital stories using images, or create Flickr photo galleries.

Use portfolios as a method of evaluation.

  • Portfolios allow you to assess students over a period of time, as they contribute to a progressive series of work instead of a one-time assignment.


Tips for Discussion: Experiencing your students through the words they express

Post pictures, videos, and/or audio clips of students to your Moodle page to build a sense of community.

  • This allows students to associate names with faces, just as they would in a face-to-face classroom environment.

Limit your own forum posts to 20 percent of the total discussion.

  • By limiting the amount of posts you include, students are forced to respond to other members of the class, not just you.

Set rules and standards for good netiquette.

  • Set parameters on discussions. Provide rules and thorough samples to students, so they better understand your expectations.
    • Tip: Require students to back up their posts with class information, readings, and resources.
    • Tip: Alternate postings by requiring students to respond every other week or to summarize discussion points.
    • Tip: Add positive comments to students’ discussion threads to encourage contribution.

Ask questions about knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

  • By posing these types of questions, you can promote in-depth, scholarly class discussions.

Encourage interactions between all parties.

  • Ask students to respond to you, the instructor, as well as to other students and to course-related content.

Set up a forum where students can post their murkiest points.

  • This provides a judgment-free zone where students can post questions or comments about material they find confusing. Remember to monitor and respond to these posts daily.

Incorporate links to external websites to maintain current discussions.

Summarize the important points in the discussion boards in weekly announcements.

Assign groups different course topics to explore.

  • For example, if you are teaching a marketing course, assign one group to write a post about how social media affects a company’s brand, have one group write about how traditional marketing helps a company’s brand, and have one group write about how television advertisements enhance a company’s brand.
    • Tip: Post each group’s contribution to the main discussion area for review and comment.

Ask groups to create a product.

  • Have students collaborate with one another to create a class project. Example products could include a quiz for the class, a response to an author, a critique of a reading, a brainstorm of a topic, a review of a journal article, a compare and contrast paper discussing a class-related topic or issue, or a response to a case study.
    • Tip: Post products in the main discussion area for review and comment.

If you are interested in teaching online courses and would like to learn more, contact Dr. Cheri Crabb with Teaching and Learning Technologies at 336.278.5006 or

Image by Flickr user xmacexCreative Commons licensed BY-CC 2.0

Sam Parker

Sam Parker is a Marketing Student Writer Intern with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies.

More Posts

Follow Me:


Comments are closed.