Unit 7- Clear Expectations


The purpose of this unit is to help you


Clear Guidelines and Expectations

The quality of participation in online discussion forums is not dependent on the type of students you have in the course. Good discussions are directly related to what is articulated by the instructor and the discussion model they create.  Therefore it is critical to design and structure discussions with guidelines or “rules of the road” .

Guidelines for Posting

The most important thing to remember is that the initial “discussion” question is only the beginning of the process. A discussion doesn’t develop until learners post their initial responses and you and the learners begin to exchange responses and reactions. The design of the discussion assignments must reflect and stress scholarly discussion among all participants (including yourself).

It is very important to structure your online discussion forum activities carefully. Learners need to have very clear guidelines for posting material, how often to comment, length of comment, and what information to include in the comments. You will get out of discussions what you articulate and model. You should set expectations on participation, grade both participation and the quality of participation, and provide rubrics that give students the standards by which they will be judged.


Provide guidelines for posting material and participation.

  1. How often to comment.
  2. Length of comment.
  3. What information to include in the comments.
Guideline Examples
Example Rubrics

Factors for Successful Online Discussions

Online discussions have different formats and can be effective in various ways..When instructors begin to plan their online discussions, research suggests a number of matters that must be taken into consideration in order for the discussion to be effective and successful.

Clear Directions

One thing that an instructor must make sure to do is provide the students with directions for online discussions that are simple, to the point, and do not cause any confusion among the learners (Rose & Smith, 2007). It should be made clear whether the discussion will be synchronous or asynchronous. If it is a synchronous discussion, the students will need to know where and when to meet, and if it is asynchronous, the students need to know if they must meet a deadline for responding to the questions posted.

Instructor Feedback

Not only are clear directions necessary, but also needed is feedback from instructors (Rose, et al., 2007). It is not enough for an instructor to give an assignment. The students need to know whether or not they are addressing the issue in enough depth, if their understanding of the issue is correct, or if students need clarification about something, an instructor needs to be able to shed light on the subject.

Promoting Motivation

Students should be motivated to contribute to the discussions (Rose, et al., 2007). There are different ways that this can be accomplished. To start with, at the very beginning of a course, an instructor can find out what interests the students, and if possible, tie in their interests to the discussion and issue being presented. The instructor also needs to address how students will be assessed on their participation in discussions. If an instructor does not include this as part of the final grade, it may be very difficult to motivate students to partake in the discussion.

Some students may not participate at all and other students may participate but give shallow and short responses instead of providing in depth reflective responses that bring together their experiences with the material. It is not enough to inform students that they will be graded on their participation in the discussions, but the students must know how they will be graded. There should be specific guidelines and rubrics that explain all of the assessment techniques that the instructor will use (Black, 2005).

Table 1 shows an example of what a rubric may look like, and there may be other criteria that an instructor wants to include when assessing a student. The criteria listed in Table 1 may be broken down into further categories, but ultimately, it is up to the instructor to decide how to assess the discussion.

Table 1. Sample Rubric

Criteria:Excellent (5)Acceptable (3)Poor (1)Total
Meeting the deadlineThe student made the
posts by th
The student made some of the
posts by the deadline
The student did not post by the
deadline set.
Quality of
The student has clearly
about the
material and has raised
The student has written about the
but has not offered
information that was not already
given in the text.
The student has not
reflected on the
material, or the post
made is
irrelevant to the topic.
MechanicsThe post made does not contain
grammatical or spelling
The post made contains very few
grammatical and/or
The post
grammatical and/or
errors and is difficult to

Facilitation is a process online instructors use to foster learning and empower learners by placing them at the center of the learning experience. From an online learning facilitation standpoint, there are two key areas for focus:

  1. the move from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” which emphasizes learner-led, experiential learning and
  2. the shift in emphasis from “pushing content” to “interaction” and learning in conversational settings.

It is also seen as important for teachers to have a positive attitude to online teaching and an ability to be innovative and experimental (risk taking).

Basic Strategies to Facilitate Online Discussions

  • Give students clear expectations about online discussion requirements, deadlines, and grading procedures.
  • Assess the quality as well as the quantity of the students’ online posts.
  • Use rubrics to allow students to have a clear guideline of your expectations for the quality of their posts.
  • Provide a schedule for  discussion board deadlines.
  • Give as much notice as possible.
  • Provide structure for students to post to threads. A good structure lessens the frustration of what to write.
  • Make yourself visible in the discussion. Students will be more likely to engage in the discussion if they see you as being a part of it.
  • Do not allow domination of the discussion. If students are dominating the discussion, privately ask them to slow down a little.

Characteristics of effective discussions

Design Strategy: Align Prompts with Objectives

Before you even begin writing your discussion prompts, look at your module or unit level objectives – what knowledge and skills do you want students to develop in your course? Connect your questions to your objectives.We highly recommend using Bloom’s taxonomy to write your learning objectives.

The objectives should be student-centered and measureable. Depending on the learning objective, using Bloom’s Taxonomy will provide a starting place for you to design an appropriate level of question. Knowledge and comprehension focused questions (i.e., “Identify” or “define” type questions) do not generally lead to quality discussions, unless they are tied to higher order thinking.  The lower level questions tend to have one right answer and do not encourage a variety of responses.

Design Strategy: Write Open-Ended Questions

All too often, discussion prompts have only one answer and do not generate discussion – everyone has the same answer. In addition to aligning your prompts with your objectives, think about questions that will elicit different responses from each student.

Types of Open-Ended Questions

  • Introductions – Introductions serve a dual purpose – as a way of building a learning community by getting to know each other and to practice using the discussion tool in a non-threatening way (no prior knowledge needed; not graded).
  • Ice Breakers – Ice Breakers are designed to get students thinking about the material or concepts and build connections with peers.  If these exercises are not assessing an objective, they are not graded.
  • Clarifying Explanations – These questions usually start at the lower level of thinking skills but build to a higher level. Students are generally asked to clarify a concept and then demonstrate their knowledge and comprehension of concepts by referencing instructional materials.
  • Question Assumptions – Instead of asking students if they agree with a particular statement, try asking the following questions instead:  What other explanations might account for this? What are the assumptions behind this statement?
  • Explore Additional Evidence – This type of prompt asks students to identify additional evidence supporting or refuting a concept or idea. It may also ask students to explore a concept more deeply by ranking or justifying their thought process.
  • Multiple Perspectives – These prompts allow students to express different ideas, theories or opinions.
  • Real World Implications – This type of prompt asks students to demonstrate knowledge of a concept by applying it to a real work example.
  • Self-Reflective Processes – Reflective activities require students to share a synthesis of the learning experience, or to describe how a situation or experience has personal value to them.

Unit 7 Activities

In How to Improve Student Learning, read pages 28, 29, 30, and 34 (Ideas #15, 16, 17, and 21). Write out how you would articulate to your students the organizing ideas for your course (on the first or second day of class). Continue to bring the elements of reasoning into the structure of the course on a typical day.

  1. Refer to the sample understandings from the  The Thinkers Guide to How to Improve Student Learning. (See below)

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