Assessing Discussions


Although discussions take place in the face-to-face learning environment, it can sometimes be challenging to inject a variety of assessment methods into online teaching and learning spaces, so our focus in this piece is discussions in the online environment.

Beyond a tool for growing social presence within a course, online discussions can: measure active participation; gauge comprehension; encourage analysis; focus on evaluation; and/or prompt synthesis.

How it works

Functionality within MyCanvas facilitates your creativity when crafting discussions. Options and restrictions allow you to:

  • Hide posts and post-deadline release them all.
  • Start a post before students can read and contribute.
  • Rate posts for a burst of competition.
  • Create spaces for smaller groups.
  • Require a post before progressing.

You can attach a score to an individual thread or multiple contributions by a student or associate a rubric with the topic. Either score can link directly to Grades.

From the students’ perspective, Discussions in MyCanvas offer robust editing features - students can see the same WYSIWYG editor that they are used to using in Word and can beef up their contributions with images, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc.

Use at Mohawk

As with most things, sketch out what you want to accomplish with the activity; don’t worry about how to make it happen! Connect with your CTL for the tips and tools to structure your discussion topics in the online learning environment.

Consider adding variety to the tasks required in a post or thread. For example:

  • Challenge students to find an article contradicting the main focus of that week’s content.
  • Require students to summarize the next week’s content in one word and write a paragraph of 50-75 words as to why they chose that word.
  • The following week, ask students to compare two different approaches/experts’ opinions.

Consistent use of the tool is wonderful for students’ experience of online learning, but varying how the tool is used is equally important for engagement.

Who can help you at Mohawk

Your Curriculum & Program Quality Consultants (CPQC) can help you to add variety to your activities. Your area’s Educational Technology Specialist (ETS) can assist with making MyCanvas work for you and your students.


More information

Brank, E., & Wylie, L. (2013). Let's discuss: Teaching students about discussions. Journal Of The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning, 13(3), 23-32: Not specifically detailing online discussion, but an interesting article exploring how to approach the importance of discussions with students. Connects the engagement with discussions to deeper success in the course. The list of references are also a sound springboard to more information.

Lai, K. (2012). Assessing participation skills: online discussions with peers. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 37(8), 933-947. doi:10.1080/02602938.2011.590878: A comprehensive analysis of a specific example for an online discussion forum. The highlight on students’ critical thinking skills and how to assess and evaluate them will be of particular interest. The author provides exemplars of the different levels of performance as well as various marking guidelines from checklist to rubric.