January 26, 2011


Posted in Professional Success, School Success at 4:38 pm by melissaautumn

This video should remind us all of the importance of proofreading.


January 21, 2011

Reading Forums – My Process

Posted in Instruction at 2:20 pm by melissaautumn

Last week’s post on my grading process and the comments it generated inspired me to write further about my teaching process. Today’s topic is how I handle the discussion forums in my courses. I really don’t have an idea for another post, but if there’s some other aspect of my teaching life that would be interesting to read about, let me know.

Scheduling Time for Forums

I spend a few hours a day on my discussion boards – all before I get to grading, course prep, making videos or actual real-time instruction. I take my forums very seriously and prioritize them as a daily activity.

The traffic on my forums stays pretty consistent throughout the semester. My Illinois ones will slow down for a few weeks around the on-campus session since I don’t require posting during that time, however that “time savings” is more than offset by two full days of travel, prepping for eight hour classes and delivering full days of instruction.

Where I do see variation is the day of the week, with patterns of heavy posting on some days and lighter posting on other days. Once I identify the pattern for the semester, I try to take this into account as I plan my work week – so if Tuesday is a heavy posting day, I ensure I have ample time to read and respond to posts on Tuesday and Wednesday. I really hate falling behind on forum reading – not only does the build-up of unread posts get overwhelming, I think I lose the “teachable moment” if there is too long of a delay in responding to students.

Ideally my courses will fall into different patterns with a heavy day for one course offset by another course’s light day. In a bad semester, two or more courses will have the same heavy days. On those days, I feel lucky if I can just keep up with all the reading and responding – all my other work gets shoved to other days of the week. To a certain extent I can control this by varying due dates, but it can still be hard to predict student behavior.

As stated above, I check my forums daily. I do try to take at least one day off on the weekend, although on those days I still check my email and skim the forums for urgent student questions.

The Process

  1. Open the spreadsheet where I track student participation. I only track mandatory participation, but all my courses have some kind of required forum participation around leading or contributing to discussions of course topics.
  2. Navigate the course management system to the first set of forums. I start with the “questions” forum, since I want to resolve any problems as soon as possible, then move on to the topical forums.
  3. Read the first unread post. I make a note next to the student’s name in my spreadsheet (or assign a grade, depending on how the course is structured). Next, I read all the replies from other students, making notes about participation as needed.
  4. At that point, I may add my own comments to the discussion. If a student’s question was answered adequately by peers, I may not respond at all. And if a discussion is just starting, I may hang back for a few days to let the conversation develop before I jump in. When I do respond, I try to either share my expertise or pose questions to prompt further thought and discussion.
  5. Then I go to the next unread thread and repeat the entire process until I’ve worked my way through all my courses.
  6. A few times a week, I review the entire spreadsheet to keep an eye on who is on track and who is not participating. If I see a problem, such as not participating for a few weeks, I will email the student to inquire.

The Little Stuff

I almost always start my day by reading forums. I have a little routine where I boot up my laptop, check email, check Facebook, and then read all my forums. Once I’ve read the forums, I’m better able to concentrate on the rest of my work because I’ve accomplished one important task for the day.

The ideal start to my day is to drink my morning coffee while I read and respond to forums. Most days I have to take my kids to school first, so it is a big treat if my husband has the day off and can take the kids (like today, when I was online and reading forums before my kids even left for school).

I listen to music while I read forums, although I usually select more mellow music than when I grade. Hmm, I wonder why that is?

January 12, 2011

My Grading Process

Posted in School Success at 3:10 pm by melissaautumn

A ProfHacker column challenged readers to share their grading process with students, so here it goes.

Scheduling Grading

Yes, I schedule time to grade. One of the potential pitfalls of online teaching is that my classes are always “meeting” – even if I work all day answering emails, grading assignments and responding to forum posts, by that evening, there will be more emails, assignments and forum posts that require my attention. In order to set some boundaries between my work and personal lives, I try to do the work for a course only once a day – so if I read forums and grade assignments for my instruction course in the morning, I usually won’t work on that class again in the evening (although I might be working on another course during that time, since I devote time to each course almost every day).

I also set boundaries by scheduling time off from work. I try to take one day off each weekend to do things I enjoy and I reserve weekday afternoons and early evenings to focus on my family. Both of these practices prevent burnout and contribute to a good quality of life for me and my family. But, they also mean I’m not necessarily grading assignments as soon as they are submitted.

Finally, my days can be very uneven, with some days providing long hours of uninterrupted work time and other days providing much less time due to family and volunteer commitments. Smaller assignments may not take as much time to grade and as a result, I usually tackle them every day to stay on top of what is coming in. However, larger assignments can take 20-30 minutes each to grade and require more sustained concentration. As a result, I schedule time a 3-5 days a week to grade large assignments.

Like ProfHacker, if I have a lot of grading, I will set a daily quota for myself – this helps me be realistic about how much I need to accomplish and gives me a manageable goal for the day. At the end of the semester when I have a lot to grade, I grade all the assignments in one course before moving on to the next course. This allows me to concentrate on the course content, rather than trying to switch gears to a different set of assignments every few hours.

The Process

The process for larger assignments like LibGuides and Instruction Design Projects:

  1. Create or locate the folder on my laptop where I save all the assignment feedback for that particular course.
  2. Locate the assignment sheet and make a clean copy of the rubric. Save this rubric in the appropriate feedback folder with a generic heading like “LibGuide Rubic.”
  3. Navigate the course management system to locate ungraded assignments. Open the next ungraded assignment. Open the rubric and resave it under the student’s name (e.g., “IDP Rubric – Sally Smith”).
  4. As I read the assignment, I’ll make notes in the appropriate section of the rubric. Once I’ve read the entire assignment, I’ll revise those notes into full sentences and paragraphs of comments. I typically reread all or part of the assignment as I’m making comments, in order to verify that I correctly understood the student’s work. The larger the assignment the more back and forth I might need to do. I generally write all my comments on the rubric, although if there are a lot of problems or I want to respond to very specific sections, I might save a copy and put additional comments directly in the assignment.
  5. Rubrics and experience with a particular assignment generally help me stay consistent in grading, but I will go back and review other students’ rubrics to see how many points I deducted for a particular error or problem. If I’m grading a brand new assignment, I will read a bunch of assignments to get a feel for student work before I start any formal grading.
  6. Next I assign a grade, recording it on both the rubric and in the course management system.
  7. Finally, I send the grade and rubric back to the student, along with a general comment like “I’ve attached a rubric with a grade; if you have questions please feel free to contact me.” In addition to entering the message, I need to upload the rubric – sometimes a multi-step process that needs to be performed in a specific order (for example, in Moodle I work from the bottom of the screen up since I need to attach the rubric before writing the message or the attachment process will erase any message and grade that have been entered).
  8. Once I’ve graded all the assignments, I review the grades in the course management system to ensure I haven’t skipped anyone or neglected to upload a rubric. I also check to be sure everyone turned in the assignment and if an assignment is missing, contact the student to inquire.

And by the time all that is done, it is generally time to start the process over with another assignment in another course.

The Little Stuff

I do play music when I grade, usually a variety of tunes from my iPod. Rock and hip hop are favorites – I need upbeat music to keep me going.

I usually sit in my bedroom since it gets a lot of sun. If I need a break and as the sun moves during the day, I will move to the dining room or living room.

I tend to complain about my grading on Facebook where my faculty colleagues will commiserate and say encouraging things. I also give myself little rewards when I have a lot of grading – like allowing myself to check email or get a snack if I grade two more assignments.

So there it is! I’m interested in hearing from my students – is it helpful to see the process I go through? Mildly amusing? Humanizing?