By Roberta Campbell-Chudoba
Perhaps you are using Discussions in Canvas as a supplement to your face-to-face class or using it in an online course.
While students’ posts may provide evidence of their learning and allow for online engagement, giving feedback on the posts is a vital part of the process – and as you are no doubt aware, can be a very time-consuming task!
Strategies to manage your marking load and provide timely, actionable, and specific feedback for students, seem to fall into three categories:
1) Lighten the load for everyone:
- Requiring weekly discussions may impact quality through posting and grading burnout; consider bi-weekly discussions or the option for students to post to a fraction of the total – say 3/5 by midterm and another 3/5 post-midterm
- Make groups smaller (7-10 maximum) to help threads stay manageable for group members and the marker
- Assign students to act as discussion moderators
- Opt for grading of posts using a holistic rubric, encouraging higher-level thinking such as reflecting, predicting, and analyzing, dependent on the discussion’s learning outcome
2) Streamline and personalize feedback by using Canvas tools:
- Build your grading rubric (holistic or analytic) in Canvas, attach it to the Discussion and select “Use this rubric for assignment grading.” The rubric will then appear in the SpeedGrader. See Grading Discussions in Canvas for tips on using the rubric grading feature. This up-front investment to build the rubric in Canvas can save substantial time when grading – and gives students a firm idea of your expectations for posting.
- You may choose to add a short comment along with the rubric and can provide personalized feedback by using audio visual tools in Canvas. Offering video (or even just audio) comments can help create engagement, while giving specific feedback on what the student did well and how they might improve in the next discussion.
- Create a bank of frequently used comments in SpeedGrader’s Comment Library. Once the comments are saved, they can be used across all of your courses. Just start typing a phrase from the comment and it will appear for you to insert in the Assignment comments area.
- Dr. Liz Quinlan (Department of Sociology, USask) finds questions about discussion grades “are reduced if my comments integrate some of the language found in the rubric so [students] can easily see the correspondence between the mark and my comments.” Thank you to Liz for sharing this strategy.
3) Use a portfolio approach:
While you’ll be monitoring discussion forums to encourage and redirect when needed, Katie Shrieves, English Department Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell suggests using a portfolio approach to free yourself from pressure to grade each post.
Shrieves’ strategy involves a split between quantity/timelines and quality. Students choose their top three posts to midterm, provide an explanation of their choices, do a celebration of a peer’s best post, complete a self-evaluation rubric and set a strategy to improve upcoming posts. See her Portfolio Assignment page.
Advantages to the portfolio approach are as follows:
- Encourages student reflection and responsibility
- Grows a climate of conversation in the forums
- Fosters efficient feedback from the instructor
Any of these strategies – or a combination of them may assist you and your students to have a better experience using Discussions for learning.