Teaching Tuesdays: Assessing Online Participation

Updated: Aug 21


The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our summer weekly series centered around best practices for remote instruction and teaching effectiveness.


What does participation look like in online coursework and how do we assess it? In a face-to face course, participation is typically assessed by appraising student engagement with coursework and classmates. Faculty note how often a student poses a question or answers a prompt during class. Instructors take into account a student’s timeliness and attentiveness. We notice the roles and responsibilities students assume in group activities and consider the level of ambition, curiosity, and grit displayed when feedback is provided. These are all valid components for assessing participation in an online course, too, with the caveat that remote learning makes it much more difficult for instructors to observe the learning processes and formative interactions that happen out of view. How then should we adapt our understanding of participation and evaluation strategies for an online context?


We have written a lot about the need for transparency during this summer series and being direct and precise about how you’re measuring participation is again key to helping your students excel in your course. However, in addition to explaining how participation will be observed and analyzed, instructors should also make a renewed effort to diversify how they are defining and evaluating course engagement. Just as in the face-to-face classroom, some students will more comfortable contributing to synchronous course conversations; others will be more reticent. The shift from live conversation to asynchronous online discussion boards may actually increase the participation of some introverts, while other student populations may struggle with writers block or language anxiety at the prospect of having their writing regularly evaluated by peers. (Language anxiety is an especially pervasive amongst non-native English speakers or those learning a foreign language.) Just as online teaching and learning opens up new ways of communicating and teaching, it also reveals new disparities in how students learn and demonstrate learning.


Both in general and especially given the circumstances of Covid19, it is crucial for instructors to develop a holistic view of online participation. If you are teaching a course that is primarily synchronous, asynchronous discussion opportunities should also be offered and considered in your participation assessment process.Instructors should strive to include multiple modes of participation in their participation calculus.Examples of course elements that might contribute to a student’s online participation score include:

  • Planned contributions to a synchronous meeting, e.g. presentation or discussion-leader assignments

  • Spontaneous contributions to a synchronous meeting, e.g. responses to group Q&A

  • Performance in an assigned role during synchronous meetings (e.g. public chat moderator, group leader, discussant) or asynchronous discussions (e.g. designated respondent for a group, peer evaluator)

  • Individual and communal contributions to asynchronous discussion boards

  • Participation in collaborative projects; not just group work or team projects (although those maybe taken into account) but course-based collaborations, such as contributing to a class’s social bookmarking or social annotation assignments (see Aligning Digital Assessments to Course Learning Goals)

What are some of the methods you use to assess student participation in your classes? How are you adapting your approach for remote teaching?


Resources and References:

As always, a snapshot of the synchronous Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT, RU-New Brunswick) workshops being offered this coming week (Aug 19- Aug 25). Visit the links to register!


Aug 19, 1 pm (1 hr): “Best Practices for Lecture Capture and Video

Aug 20, 9am (1.5 hours): “Intro to Canvas Part 1: Setting Up & Building Your Course in Canvas

Aug 21, 2pm (1.5 hours): “Fundamentals of Designing Online Courses

Aug 24, 11am (1.5 hours): “Intro to Canvas Part 2: Assign and Assess Student Work

Don’t forget that TLT also has an extensive learning library of tutorials including a three-part series on “Assessing Discussions and Participation Online.”

Upcoming workshops from Instructional Design and Technology (IDT, RU-Camden) are viewable here. Recordings of past IDT trainings are available here. Workshop topics (Aug 19- Aug 25) include: “Building Community and Providing Feedback,” “Intro to Canvas,” Assessments in Canvas,” and “Teaching with Zoom.”

Brought to you by the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship at Rutgers University-Newark

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