Create Discussion Rubrics

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While faculty might hope that students can “just discuss” a topic online with little or no support, Beckett, Amaro‐Jiménez, and Beckett (2010) found that “even doctoral students may need explicit grading instructions, and therefore provide rubrics and sample responses while not stifling creativity” (p. 331). Rubrics provide clear expectations for students regarding how an assignment, that can otherwise be subjective, will be graded. In addition to providing learner support, they can be especially helpful to instructors since they clearly state the goals for the assignment and facilitate a systematic way to assign grades. Some faculty members also employ the assistance of a teaching assistant and with multiple graders, the potential for inconsistent grading becomes high. Rubrics can help minimize that potential risk.

Baker (2011) notes that it is helpful for the instructor to be very clear in their rubric, using both quantitative and qualitative elements. Concerning discussions, instructors can advise students that higher quality comments will likely have certain features like referring to the text, lecture or other sources. A rubric can contain criteria about original posts, but also replies to other students (“to simply agree or disagree with other members is not sufficient”). He defines a ‘substantive post’ as well-constructed, thoughtful, independent comment of one paragraph or more. He recommends setting up a word limit as well; for him, a “C” grade level comment would consist of 125 words. It is not advised to always adopt a certain word count; the scope of the discussion will always depend on the learning objectives of the module and other activities.

Pelz (2004, in Cranney et al., 2011) recommend that students ask these questions to themselves as they post: (1) Is the information accurate? (2) Is your post relevant to the topic under discussion? (3) Does your post answer the questions required? (4) Does your post teach something new or apply a concept in a new way? (5) Have you added to the academic atmosphere of this course? These questions then serve as categories for a rubric.

Link to example artifact(s)

Simple rubric examples

More elaborated rubric examples

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Baker, D. L. (2011). Designing and orchestrating online discussions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 401-411.

Beckett, G., Amaro-Jiménez, C., & Beckett, K. (2010). Students’ use of asynchronous discussions for academic discourse socialization, Distance Education, 31:3, 315-33. DOI:

Cranney, M., Alexander, J. L., Wallace, W., & Alfano, L. (2011). Instructor’s discussion forum effort: Is it worth it? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 337-348.


Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., Thompson, K., Sugar, A., &Vargas, J. (2014). Create discussion rubrics. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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