Option 1: Designing a Discussion Forum with Scoring Criteria

This section will walk you through how to create a discussion forum and how to build a corresponding assessment tool. Before beginning, we will first explore:

  1. The purpose and value of discussion forums in online learning environments
  2. Who can use discussion forums?
  3.  The instructor’s role
  4. Inclusivity tips
  5.  Discussion forum design

After reading through these key elements of discussion forums, you will engage in a hands-on activity to build a full discussion forum. This will include:

  1. A table of specifications (align assessment-instruction-outcomes)
  2. An assessment tool (scoring criteria)
  3. A discussion forum design (its structure)
  4. Prompts and guidelines (what students will respond to and how they should engage in the discussion forum)
  5. Discussion forum built (in Moodle)
  6. (Optional): Receive feedback from the Teaching Centre

This section will take you 3 – 4 hours to complete.

Please read the key elements of discussion forums below. You will be notified with a STOP: message once you reach the activity portion of the section. 



    STOP: Now you will create a discussion forum for your class. 

Activity: Design a Discussion Forum & Assessment Tool 

For this activity, you will work through the following six steps:

  1. Create a table of specifications
  2. Build your accompanying scoring criteria
  3. Design & build the structure for your discussion forums
  4. Create prompts
  5. Set up your forum online
  6. Receive feedback and change as needed

Remember to have your course outline and learning outcomes (goals) handy!

Step 1  Create a Table of Specifications

Create a Table of Specifications to identify the course content you want to assess and the level of thinking you want your students to illustrate. Use the template Table of Specifications. (download the template by clicking the blue text)

A table of specifications outlines the course learning outcomes associated with the discussion forum, the specific content areas covered in the forum, the level of cognitive demand students will use to demonstrate their learning, and the weighted value you place on each content area you will be grading.

See a sample Table of Specifications: SAMPLE Table of Specifications

Once you have your table of specifications open, follow these five steps to complete the table:



Step 2 Building Your Scoring Criteria for Discussion Forums

Create your scoring criteria. This is the assessment tool you will use to evaluate your students’ learning. We use scoring criteria to grade students.

TIP: Checklists and Holistic Rubrics are faster and easier to create. However, they view content and competencies as a ‘have’ or ‘have not.’ Analytic Rubrics are more complex, but they provide a stronger evaluation process for grading and student performance.

  1. Choose whether you will be using a checklist, holistic rubric, or analytic rubric to evaluate your forum. Review Section 2 for more information about the differences between these tools. Use the templates provided to guide you through the creation of your chosen assessment tool. By clicking the text in blue, you can download a template to create your assessment tool.
  2. Open the template. Replace all of the [text in brackets] with specific content related to your assessment. You can use the information you have outlined in your table of specifications. Your content in your table of specifications can be easily copied into the content for your scoring guide. You may want to be more specific and create more detailed descriptions. You can also use the weight you have identified in your table of specifications as a guide for determining how much content area is worth.

Open the appropriate tab for the assessment tool you want to use. Follow the steps to design your assessment tool:



STOP: You should now have your Table of Specifications and Assessment Tool built for your Discussion Forum.


Step 3 

A) Design & Build the Structure for your Discussion Forums 

Now that you have built your grading criteria, you want to consider how to structure and design the discussion forum. Think about how students will engage in the forum, how you will moderate the forum, how you will give feedback and when you will grade forum posts. We recommend that you open a new Word Document to write down your ideas.



B) Creating Prompts 

Now you will write the questions/prompts to promote student discussion. The number of prompts will depend on the number of discussions you have planned. You want to create prompts that you can easily grade with your assessment tool.

Refer to your table of specifications and your assessment tool to help you build and design your prompts.

Consider creating a master list of prompts and questions on a Word Document. For each due date you have indicated create a prompt that relates to the content and level of learning you want students to exhibit.


Here are some Tips for Creating Discussion Forum Prompts


STOP: You should now have a table of specifications, an introduction to the assignment, an assessment tool for grading, a schedule for discussion posts, and prompts for each due date. You may also have guidelines if you chose to build them.


Step 4 Setting up Forums in Moodle 

Now you are ready to build your Discussion Forum in Moodle.

You may choose to have students engage in the Discussion in an open, public, online space like a website or chatroom. Be aware of student confidentiality requirements and accessibility issues if you choose one of these options. For this boot camp, we will ask you to build your forum in Moodle.

TIP: Before you begin building your Discussion Forum in Moodle, consider where you will create your Discussion Forum on Moodle, where the grading criteria can be found, and how it will be set-up in the Gradebook.


Here’s how to do this on Moodle. Please follow the steps provided in the tutorial and build your discussion forum in your class Moodle page. You will want to open your class Moodle page and keep the tutorial open to guide you through building your forum in Moodle.

Tips for engaging students in the forum:



Step 5 Receive Feedback 

It is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes on new teaching tools. Here are two ways you can receive feedback:

  1. Consider having a colleague read through your forum.
  2. Ask the Teaching Centre to review your assessment.


Next step:

You can go back to the beginning of the module and select a new activity, or continue reading more in the tool box sections by clicking here.

Extended Resources

Liberman, M. (2019, March 27). Discussion boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/03/27/new-approaches-discussion-boards-aim-dynamic-online-learning.

CUNY School of Professional Studies. (n.d.). Constructing effective online discussion. Office of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology. Retrieved April 16, 2020 from https://spscoursedesign.commons.gc.cuny.edu/designing-discussions/

Linney, S. (2020, March 27). The flesch reading ease and flesch-kincaid grade level. Readable. https://readable.com/blog/the-flesch-reading-ease-and-flesch-kincaid-grade-level/.


British Columbia Institute of Technology. Developing checklists and rating scales. [PDF] Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from http://www.northernc.on.ca/leid/docs/ja_developchecklists.pdf.

CUNY School of Professional Studies, Office of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology. (n.d.). Anatomy of a sample assignment. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://spscoursedesign.commons.gc.cuny.edu/files/2015/10/Anatomy-of-a-Sample-Assignment.pdf.

Liberman, M. (2019, March 27). Discussion boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/03/27/new-approaches-discussion-boards-aim-dynamic-online-learning.

McDonald, D. (2016, July 22). Sample discussion board ground rules. Wiley Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://ctl.wiley.com/sample-discussion-board-ground-rules/.

Mertler, C. A. (2000). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 7(25), 1 – 8. https://doi.org/10.7275/gcy8-0w24.

Moodle Answers. (n.d.). Using moodle forums effectively. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://moodleanswers.com/index.php/information/instructor-tutorials/97-activities/146-using-moodle-forums-effectively.

Touro College. (2014, May 19). 15 rules of netiquette for online discussion boards. [Infographic]. http://blogs.onlineeducation.touro.edu/15-rules-netiquette-online-discussion-boards/.

University of Lethbridge. (n.d.). Academic schedule. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://www.uleth.ca/ross/academic-schedule?month=5&year=2020




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Fit for Online Learning Copyright © 2020 by U of L Teaching Centre: Jördis Weilandt, Erin Reid, Kristi Thomas, Brandy Old, and Jeff Meadows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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