Monday, August 29, 2005

Weighting course requirements/grading

The weighting of your course requirements will shift in an online writing class, if for no other reason than that some portion, and perhaps a significant portion, of the course grade will consist of message board or listserve posts or other asynchronous electronic writing. Such writing usually plays a small role, if any, in f2f classes, so you’ll need to find a way to include it in your syllabus for your online class.

If your grading always looks something like this
· Three papers: 45% (15% each)
· Final paper: 25%
· Journal: 15%
· Quizzes: 10%
· Participation: 5%
then your way of thinking about the grade percentages in your class will change. If you already use message boards in your f2f classes, you’ll perhaps have an easier time making the conceptual switch to including a chunk of this material in your grade.

As I’ve said, the sheer amount of writing in an online writing class opens up big teaching and learning possibilities for students. Students will be writing to communicate nearly every important idea they have in the class (and they’ll be reading a great deal as well). Their message board writing should be taken seriously by everyone in the class, and so you should reflect how much you expect of it by making it count for a lot.

I have no problem with making the Discussions (I use WebCT) in my class worth around 35% of the grade. I closely structure the Discussions (more on this soon), and, basically, I ask a great deal of the students in these posts. Because these posts are worth so much, I feel the students take them seriously. The payoff has been that the writing on these Discussions is some of the best I’ve ever read from my writing students.

As you think about weighting your requirements, I suggest you de-emphasize the paper/essay and journal chunks of the final grade and eliminate participation, as the spirit-of-participation components will be preserved in your message board grades. You also may find message boards do everything a journal does and more (although perhaps you still want students to do some personal, expressive writing the rest of the class won’t see).

If you’re a big quizzer (as I am), quizzes don’t have to wither in an online class. I use reading quizzes to start most of my f2f classes, and I’ve maintained that frequent quizzing practice (which is backed by a philosophy that easy, fun quizzes help students structure their reading) in online classes, but I decrease the weight of the quizzes so I don’t spend all term policing students and trying to create cheat-free quizzes.

The bottom line is to be prepared to shift your thinking about grades a bit when teaching writing online. The students will be writing out nearly all of their transactions/interactions in the class, and you’ll want a way to make that writing—which their classmates will read too—a significant part of the course.