How do I assess students for meaningful participation in online discussions?

Online discussions allow students to collaborate and to co-create knowledge over time, and can be used to assess the quality of students’ contributions.

Discussions in an online discussion board enable students to contribute over a period of time, to contemplate and return to topics and share resources such as images, files, videos and links. They also allow teaching staff to facilitate the sharing of ideas, opinions and resources.

Online discussions can support students to develop a range of skills, including:

  • Analysing and critiquing subject materials and resources
  • Responding to a scenario
  • Participating in a group debate
  • Constructing an argument
  • Identifying and sharing information and resources
  • Devising a topic and facilitating the discussion over a period of time.

In the LMS you can set clear guidelines within a discussion board and modify the settings to suit specific requirements. These can include making the activity available to students within a set period of time, setting it up as a group task, or making participants’ responses viewable only once a student has submitted their discussion post. The LMS has settings for facilitators to view and assess individual students’ contributions, and for students to view their own contributions.

To assess meaningful participation, consider asking students to submit a curated collection of their best posts and responses, or a reflection on what they have learned and how they have contributed to the learning of others. This approach allows students to revisit the discussions and reflect on their development. It also streamlines the assessment process, as markers assess the quality of the contributions that the students themselves put forward as their best work.

What are the advantages?

For students

  • Many students feel more comfortable contributing to a discussion online than face-to-face.
  • Students co-construct knowledge through dialogue and debate, and reflect on their learning.
  • By curating a collection of their posts, students develop metacognition and evaluative judgement.

For educators

  • LMS analytics let facilitators see where students have contributed in a discussion, making it easier to locate individual contributions, and to see contributions within the context of an overall discussion.
  • With a curated collection, markers can assess the quality of contributions in a single document.
  • Students can receive timely informal feedback from their peers rather than having to wait for teaching staff to deliver it to them.

Support and resources


digital assessment digital developmental assessment timely feedback formative summative collaborative co-creation co-creation of knowledge social constructivism social constructivist