Engagement Activities

Site: Technology-Enabled Learning Lounge
Course: Developing & Teaching Online Courses
Book: Engagement Activities
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Thursday, 7 December 2023, 2:21 PM


This book guides you through the assessment of critical thinking skills through the use of discussions and project work.

Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

Using essays, discussions and project work (group and individual) to assess student learning in your course are excellent strategies to evaluate critical thinking, problem solving and analysis skills, while also assessing student knowledge of the content. Using a well structured project, discussion or essay question you can easily determine how well students know the content and whether or not they have developed the skills to synthesize course material and apply it to new situations.

Your course assessment strategy will be more robust if you include a variety of elements, such as:

  • computer marked quizzes to assess knowledge and comprehension
  • essays and discussions to assess critical thinking, analysis and evaluation
  • project work to assess synthesis and application of knowledge to new situations (creation)

Discussion Questions

Discussion questions in online and blended learning promote reflexion and critical thinking about the course material. Effective online instructors ask stimulating and thought provoking questions that will engage students in active learning by having them brainstorm ideas and compare them with their peers' before linking those ideas to the context of the course content.

Crafting Good Discussion Questions

Much like good essay questions, good discussion questions avoid asking about factual information, such as 'What are the steps involved in soldering two metals together?' or 'What are the characteristics of diesel engines?'

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If you needed to have a discussion about diesel engines in an automotive course, a more appropriate question might be:

Compare and contrast the differences between diesel and gas engines by analysing elements of efficiency in fuel consumption, environmental sustainability and maintenance safety in different physical environments.

To craft a good discussion question, make sure that you consider the learning objectives, the question type most appropriate to the learning situation and the scope of the question so that learners are able to meet the learning objectives. Too broad a question is bound to not zone in on what you need.

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Watch the videos about creating forums in Moodle and then work on the Create a Discussion Question assignment.

Project Work

Including project work in your assessment strategy is one of the best ways to assess application of knowledge and knowledge creation.Giving learners projects to work on as part of the learning process, not necessarily only as part of the assessment process, provides many opportunities for active learning and deeper learner engagement.

Project work can be performed individually and in groups. Regardless of whether the intention is to have learners work individually or as part of a team, project assignments or tasks need to be clearly structured so that learners know exactly what is expected of them. A good strategy is to:

  • State the objective(s) for the project in a quantifiable manner.
  • Describe the deliverable for the project in clear and concise words. If possible provide examples of the deliverable.
  • When possible, structure the project in several phases, and invite learners to submit their work for each phase so that you can provide continuous guidance in a timely fashion.
  • Provide clear instructions for project tasks, ideally in the order that they are to be performed.
  • Use active verbs for the instructions.
  • Provide a rubric with the assessment criteria and the grading scheme, if applicable.

Learning Through Group Activities

Bandura's social learning theory argues that new behaviours can be learned in social contexts by watching other people (observational learning). Group projects facilitate learning as a social process, as team members observe and model behaviours and attitudes to learn in collaborative environments, which is a skill that is highly transferable to the working environment.

The design of successful group projects should include a detailed group project outline which should include:

  • clear goal statements: what are the goals and expected outcomes (deliverables) for the project. Projects are compromised when the team fails to see the objective and purpose for the work.
  • clear assessment guidelines: learners know exactly how they will be assessed and what is expected of them.They can judge for themselves the validity and fairness of the assessment guidelines. If they believe the assessment if flawed, they will not engage in the work.
  • phased approach: Group project is structured across several phases with deliverables due at different times
  • suggested group management processes: how the group may work together, how the work can be divided by the team and how the team will report to the instructor.
  • suggested implementation timelines: how frequently the group checks-in with each other and the instructor. This keeps the team on task and prevents procrastination, especially if there are reminders throughout the course when each phase of the group project is supposed to start.
  • clearly defined due dates: milestones and final delivery due dates are clearly stated in a course schedule, course calendar and at certain points during the course, for example, in the introduction to one of the modules, there could be a reminder about the need to start working on phase 2 of the group project.
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This example of a group project outline for a social media marketing plan addresses some of the tips mentioned above.

Assessing Group Projects

One of the biggest concerns learners have about group projects has to do with inequities of contribution and the possibility that grading practices may not fairly assess individual contributions. Structuring the project in phases, monitoring the work of the group online or in the class and having a peer assessment component are strategies that can mitigate these inequities. However, it is important that the assessment strategy assesses both the "product" of the work (the deliverable) and the "process" (how the group worked together, how issues were resolved, how work was allocated, etc). Having a good grading rubric in place for each group project will go a long way to ensure effective group work.

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Although this is a complex rubric for a group project, it gives you an idea of what a rubric may look like and the criteria that can be used to assess the work of the group.

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Web Resources: Optional Readings

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Optional Activity

Watch the videos about creating and managing groups in Moodle and, if it makes sense for your course, create a group project.

Using Rubrics

Rubrics are tools that are commonly used by instructors to communicate expectations for assignments or projects and to grade final products. Rubrics outline the criteria for the assignments and the respective grading and define standards for performance levels, from excellent to poor or any other scale you may wish to use.

Rubrics can also be a learning tool. In formative, learner-centered approaches to assessment, rubrics can help learners develop understanding and skill, as well as make dependable judgments about the quality of their own work. Engaging learners in developing rubrics for projects or assignments empowers them to think in terms of their own performance standards as they relate to specific course material.

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  • Here's an example of a rubric used to communicate expectations for online discussions and to indicate how performance will be assessed.
  • This rubric is an example used for lab-work in automotive courses.

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Web Resources: Optional Readings

  • This job aid from the British Columbia Institute of Technology guides you through the steps to create your own rubric.
  • RCampus is a free resource that allows you to build your own rubric from scratch or to adapt existing rubrics developed by other educators.

Assignment icon


Watch the Moodle video tutorials on using rubrics in Moodle and then work on the Create a Rubric assignment.

Once you finish watching the Moodle tutorials and once you do the assignments in this section you finish your work with Module 5. By now you must have a good sense of accomplishment as you will have created many elements for your course. Well done!  Soon enough you will be able to complete the work on your course and hopefully you can continue to work with your peers to bounce ideas and collect feedback on your work. However, it is now time for us to move on to Module 6, which focuses on the key aspects of teaching an online course.