Assessing Online Participation

Participation is an important part of a student’s grade in virtually all Harvard courses; in many, it counts for as much as 20% of a student’s final grade. The ways in which you gauge students’ interest and engagement will need to adjust as you move your course online. It is difficult to look out onto a sea of 100 faces in a Zoom meeting and judge how many people have puzzled looks on their faces as you teach.  You and your students could face challenges in accessing technology or a quiet place to work. Depending on the circumstances and the learning curve you and your students may face, you should consider multiple ways to assess participation. Here are some ideas, whether you are using Zoom or other online tools:

  • Ask each student to contribute to a Zoom meeting. This could be challenging in a large class but may work for smaller courses or sections. There are multiple ways to have students participate during Zoom classes: They could be expected to speak during the class. (Pro-tip: everyone will need to become familiar with how to mute and unmute themselves) They could contribute using the chat function (Pro-tip: it can be helpful to have a second person—perhaps a TF—moderating the chat; it can be difficult to respond to student chats while also leading the class).
  • Students could share work using the screen share function. Students could annotate a shared screen (pro-tip: it may be hard to track which student makes a specific annotation. You could ask students to take turns or you could ask them to explain the annotation that they made either live with the class or through another medium like chat or even a google doc).
  • Assign roles for Zoom meetings. The previous tools and methods may work better if you pre-assign roles to students. 
  • Have students complete a task, answer a question, debate an issue in a breakout room and share their discussion, solution, answer. Each room could pick one student to serve as the spokesperson for the group when everyone comes back together in the full group. The group could even document their work and share it using the screen share function. You could have the students produce a document, audio file, slide that they share with the teaching staff and/or the class through Canvas or Google.
  • Use discussion boards on Canvas. Not all participation needs to happen via Zoom; in some cases asynchronous participation may be easier for students to complete, and easier for you to assign and assess.

Academic Technology for the FAS / HUIT

Your starting place for learning about and accessing many of the technological tools you may need, such as Zoom, Canvas, and related plug-ins.

The Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL)

VPAL convenes university-wide conversations about teaching and pedagogical research, particularly in the online space.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE)

OUE oversees, and stewards resources devoted to, the undergraduate curriculum at Harvard College..

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE)

DCE offers a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses, and their staff are experienced in thinking about multiple ways to achieve your goals through different mediums.

SEAS and the Division of Science

Advice on teaching in the sciences.

The Harvard Libraries

Request help modifying/troubleshooting your research-based assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Schedule a consultation with the Bok Center's Senior Staff. (Please note that consultations are available only for Faculty and Teaching Fellows in the FAS.)

Faculty can visit our office hours, every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 10:30–11:30 AM; or request a class observation.

Daily Office Hours  |  Class observation

Teaching Fellows can attend and explore the asynchronous Canvas resources from Winter Teaching Week; or attend our biweekly TF resource hours.

Winter Teaching Week  |  TF Resource Hours

The media production staff of the Bok Center's Learning Lab can provide consultations for faculty teaching Harvard College courses using Zoom and other modes of media capture. We can provide suggestions for setting up remote video capture environments in your home or office, and on ways to integrate media into your courses.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss your needs with our staff.

Email the Learning Lab  |  Request a Media Tutorial

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