Friday, May 25, 2007

Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment

Assessing discussion contributions, whether in an online or on-campus course, is a drag. I like to participate in the discussions too, and if I am responsible for judging the quality of each student's contribution I am distracted. Plus, I've always thought that it was inappropriate for me to be the sole judge of value. Luckily, karma points emerged as a teaching and assessment strategy that fit well with my teaching approach. (Note: I now refer to these as "inspiration points" because I had a student who was very offended by the use of the name "karma"...I did not want the name -- which was not critical to the process -- to get in the way of the purpose, described below.)

Karma points, an approach used by members of the online community (and similar to the valuing process used by community members of Amazon and Ebay), involve students in the evaluation of the quality of discussion contributions. The idea behind karma points is that the learning community, not a moderator or an instructor, should be responsible for (1) determining the value of community members’ posting in terms of helping the community achieve specific goals, and (2) awarding those valued contributions.

To make karma points work, I give each student a certain number (e.g., three) of karma points that she or he can assign to valued discussion contributions within a certain timeframe (e.g., by week’s end if online, or by the end of the evening session if on-campus). Because the students are evaluating each other, I work with them at the beginning of the semester to establish criteria for determining “value” and then apply the criteria to their assessment of peers’ contributions and the creation of their own contributions. For example, karma point criteria may include sharing original ideas, writing clearly, presenting a coherent argument, providing evidence to support an argument, “listening” to others and incorporating their ideas and perspectives, and so on (see below for an example of criteria).

Criteria for Karma Points

Here is how we will assign our allotment of karma points for each discussion:

0 points: Though you may have introduced an interesting idea or contributed to the discourse, it is not original enough, or is somehow unclear.
1 point: You provide a succinct, interesting, original, and well-documented argument or idea, or provide a useful link or pertinent fact.
2 points: Your contribution is creative and original, and compellingly argues a very clear point. You support your contribution with evidence.
3 points: An exceptional contribution to the discourse, one that really opens eyes and encourages a lively discussion/debate. Exemplary in all respects.

Ways to Improve Chances of Receiving Karma Points
  • Choose provocative subject lines to make our postings stand out.
  • Present our own perspectives.
  • Write clearly.
  • Construct an argument. Provide evidence, present a rationale that supports our positions, and reference the opinions of others, linking to supplementary evidence when appropriate.
  • Open up debate by remembering that the best response is one that gets people thinking, and that makes them want to reply.
  • Learn from others who have posted before us by reading through the posts and referring to appropriate posts in our own.
Rules for Assigning Karma Points

Only award karma points to those who have contributed significantly to the discussion – vote trading is unacceptable. Award karma points based on the quality of the message, irrespective of the content of the message – vote for exceptional messages even if you do not necessarily agree with the ideas presented.


In my experience, the community-centered focus of karma points improves the quality of each post during a discussion because students are more reflective and thoughtful about their responses, make sure their responses are supported by evidence, and work hard to provide value to the learning community by moving the discussion forward. The example below shows the quality of postings karma points inspires and how karma points are assigned to postings even if students share opposing views (e.g., Michael disagrees with Michelle’s perspective but still acknowledges the posting’s value to the overall discussion). By using karma points, I participate more in the discussion because students have taken over part or all of the evaluation role. The karma points students accumulate for their valued contributions to the discussion can be used to determine a score for class participation.

Online, karma points can be distrubuted in the subject line of a student's post -- e.g., Karma point to Rick. In an on-campus classroom, I pass out index cards and have students track their point distribution on the cards.

Side note: A couple of years ago I was teaching an online course in which I used karma points. A few weeks before the end of the course, my daughter decided to be born five weeks early. I wanted to complete the course, but needed to scale back on some of the activities, specifically my monitoring of the last couple of weeks of online discussion. I informed the students that they were welcome to continue the discussions but that they need not assign karma points because I would no longer be monitoring. I thought for sure they would discontinue all discussion and focus on completing their final projects. To my amazement, they continued the discussion until the end of the course, and continued to acknowledge each other’s contributions by awarding karma points! They clearly believed that there was value in the process and, in fact, told me so in the end-of-course evaluations.

Related posts in this blog:
Discussion ground rules
Don’t jump into discussions
Engaging quieter online students
Small groups reporting out to the large group?
Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)

1 comment:

Dr Rosie Miles said...

Hi Joni,
I'm a Lecturer in English from the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, and I've made quite considerable use of assessed online discussion in some of my modules. I'm currently writing a section on 'Assessing Online Discussion' for a Good Practice Guide to Using Discussion Forums for the Higher Education English Community in the UK and came across your post above. I've not tried what you suggest here but like the idea of it. I had wondered how to get students involved in the process of reflection about the quality of what they and their peers are posting in a Discussion Forum, and this could be it!

Best wishes,
Rosie Miles
Senior Lecturer in English
University of Wolverhampton, UK