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.