- Anything called a test or quiz is important.
- Anything called discussion you can miss.
- The textbook is the heart of the class and should be read carefully.
- Anything called an assessment could go one way or another.
- If it’s online, it’s self-paced and you don’t need to “show up”.
- All online classes are in Blackboard.
In terms of course design, I don’t consider the discussion 20% of the course, just 20% of the grade. It’s more like half the class, because it’s the processing and sharing of the knowledge learned via presentation and reading. It’s the heart, not a side activity. It’s lower stakes (not 50% of the grade) because I want the students to feel free to explore.
This seems simple enough, but my experience corroborates Lisa's - the students just don't get it.
I have found a way to resolve this problem, at least partially. From the beginning of my courses I make it clear that grades will be based on summative assessment only, and that all other activities are formative and for that reason are not graded. For the first few times I gave online classes, this caused so much confusion because students didn’t know where to focus their energy. So, I decided to give a mark to each activity, a number according to its value. I keep this on a Google spreadsheet linked to the Moodle so it is always up to date and visible to students. That changed everything because students can’t stand to see a low number, even if it doesn’t count towards the grade.
Also, if a discussion is designed to last 2 weeks and it is worth 6 points (marks), then I assign 3 to the first week and 3 to the second week. This gets students to participate more constantly and not just at the end of the designated period for that discussion.
I have told them that because activities are formative, they can be improved by going over my feedback and the rubrics. This of course means being flexible with due dates and very patient with problems each student has in doing assignments on time. It has motivated them to interact more with me, with classmates and with the rubrics and it has focused their attention, even if it is inadvertently, on the learning process - writing, editing, consulting, re-writing, re-editing, consulting again - and less on the grade itself.
It is kind of sad to use numbers for this purpose, but it seems to be a language symbol that communicates a message far clearer than many of my attempts to explain and motivate.