Course Outline and Requirements

Student-led Discussions.

Nearly half of your grade is based on your participation in the discussions so it is very important to understand what they are about and what is expected of you.

They are the "heart" of this Philosophy class because they are the area in which the ideas are exchanged and through INTERACTION with your instructor and classmates a dialectical process of thought is to be developed.

It is your responsibility in this course is to participate in the on-line Discussions. This document provides instructions on how to initiate and respond to these discussions. You can also return to the MANUAL in TOOLS section for a "refresher". 


You should be entering the discussions on at least three different days each week in order to allow for INTERACTION


You should be responding to each discussion forum topic and get involved in at least one student lead discussion in each module.  You should at least attempt to lead one yourself.

Important Note: Student-led discussions are not informal "chat rooms!" Your questions and answers should be focused on the course content. Every post should contribute some substantive information. 

The Student-led discussions are "threaded discussions". This means that the contributions made by the participants will "line-up" so that when you look at the list, you will see an outline of the discussion and you will be able to see which responses go together by how far they are indented. 

In order for this system to work, each participant in the discussion needs to know how to do 2 things:

1. Responding to the main item - this is how you answer or ask your question for each module.

2. Responding to the assignment document: Every discussion begins with someone starting a new thread in response to the main question posed by the instructor.  Whenever anyone wishes to start a new discussion this is how it is done.  Just click on ADD a NEW THREAD.   Be sure to give the new thread an appropriate title in the SUBJECT space.

3. Responding to someone else's response: If you are reading someone else's question, or any other response document in the Student-led discussion. 

Reply by clicking on the "reply" button - this is the one to choose to respond to the document you are currently reading. If you use the person's name as the "subject" of your response it will be easier for the rest of us to follow the discussion thread. 

Submitting your response: When you have completed typing your response, click the "Submit" button at the bottom of the page.  

Netiquette: As the discussion is of a public nature, please observe proper "netiquette" -- courteous and appropriate forms of communication and interaction. This means no personal attacks, obscene language, or intolerant expression. All viewpoints should be respected. Also, DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. That's called "shouting" on the web, and it is considered rude.

Please follow these Netiquette Terms of Service or Conditions for Use:

No sloppy postings, please use a spell check and then copy and paste into the discussion box
No inflammatory messages, count to 10 before posting, No (masked) vulgarity,
No trolling
No spamming,
No mentioning of pink elephants, etc
YES, be polite
Yes, be helpful
Yes, copy and paste materials into your posts to support your positions
Yes, ask questions of your classmates
Yes, point out inconsistencies, contradictions and vagueness
Yes, respond to those you respond to you
acceptable posting language.

No spelling short cuts or emoticons,
No lower case "i" in referring to oneself.
No sentence fragments and sentences that begin without an upper-case letter.

Note: Submissions to a Student-led discussion after the module end date are welcome, but they are not included in the evaluation of your course activities.

On Netiquette see the module and take the review quiz here.


1. The questions you ask in the Student-led discussions should be thoughtfully developed and carefully worded. These questions should address issues and/or concepts from the reading that you find particularly important. I will use the following 5 criteria to evaluate your questions:

a. Relevance - your question must be relevant to the material in the unit of study.
b. Importance - your question must address a significant issue in the chapter.
c. Thought-provoking - your question must require high-level thought, not a simple "look-up" in the textbook.
d. Originality - you must not ask a question that is essentially the same as a question posed by another student.
e. Timely - Your question must be posted early in the Module so that the other students have an opportunity to respond and you have time to facilitate a good discussion thread.

 2. Your responses to questions posed by me and by the other students will be evaluated, and quality points awarded, based in part on the following 6 criteria:

a. Is your answer correct?
b. Is your answer thorough?
c. Is your answer focused - to the point?
d. Is your answer well-organized?
e. Is your answer well-written?
f. Is your answer original?

Note: Only responses that demonstrate Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and/or Teaching Presence will be awarded quality points. See below for more information.

In this course, each student is responsible for leading at least one discussion thread within in each module-not within each discussion topc. The quality of your discussion thread can be influenced by the feedback you give to the students who post to it. Three things determine the quality of a discussion thread:

1. The quality of the initial discussion question you ask. I have given some specific guidelines above. I will quality points to your question. The better your question is, the more points it will receive. Note: If you do not submit your question on time (that is, within the first 2 days that the module is active) no points will be awarded.

2. The quality of the response posts. Some students will make thoughtful and informative posts to your discussion, and some will give minimal responses. I grade the quality of the posts, and that grade influences your grade in the course. However, you should provide feedback to students too. If a student posts a high-quality response, you should tell them. And, if a student posts a low quality response, you should tell them.

3. The depth of the discussion thread. Discussion "depth" is determined by how many indents there are. If you ask a question, and a student answers, that is a "level 1" discussion. If you reply to the student - now it's a "level 2" discussion. If the student gets back to you - now it's "level 3". If another student joins in and responds to the students last post - now it's "level 4". The more indents - the "deeper" the discussion thread. Of course, if the posts are low quality, depth is meaningless.


What is a low quality post? A low quality does not teach us anything, or contribute anything positive or substantial to the discussion. Examples of low quality responses: any response which is biased, prejudicial, off topic, or is unsubstantiated / any response which is carelessly typed, poorly thought-out, grammatically incorrect or confusing / any response which is disrespectful of another student or any other person, etc.

What is a high quality post? A high quality response teaches us something, or adds something positive and/or substantial to the discussion. It contains information from the textbook or another valid source, or applies a concept from the text or a legitimate website in a meaningful way, or facilitates understanding of the course material. The best posts not only introduce new ideas or knowledge, but help us relate it to what we are studying in the module.

In each of the chapter discussion, I will evaluate the quality of your responses (see the grading criteria below). You will be able to see your scores. Your grade in each module for the discussions will be determined by the total performance in all the discussion forums for that module.

Discussions are the heart and soul of this course. There are areas in each module where you are supposed to lead and/or participate in discussions. For example, in the Student Led Discussions, every student is required to ask one question in at least one discussion forum in the module and then to lead the discussion on that question. The question you ask should require thoughtful responses, and should address important and/or controversial issues introduced in the text. No two questions should be the same issue - so read the other questions before posting your own. The sooner you post your question the better - but you must post within the first two days that the section is open or you will not be awarded any quality points for your question. Additionally, when another student responds to your question, you should respond back to them. Your job is to facilitate the discussion in your discussion thread, so you should probe for additional information and ask additional questions in order to fully explore the topic you have asked about. See the suggestions under "Teaching Presence" below for suggestions on how to facilitate a discussion.

After you post your question, you are required to respond to no fewer than three other student questions. You may respond to as many questions as you want to - but three is the minimum. You are expected to be an active participant in all discussion forums and to lead only one thread within one forum in each module.

The Student Led Discussions are the major learning activities in this course. I will evaluate your participation carefully. You must demonstrate knowledge of the material - not just your opinions. Each contribution you make to any of the discussion threads should add something of value to the discussion.

There are three response categories that I consider valuable (discussed below), and when your response fits into one or more of these categories, I will award points to your submission. At the conclusion of each module, I will grade your discussion performance based on the number of points you have earned. There are no fixed cut-offs for each grade. I will decide the grade requirements for each discussion separately, based on the overall quality of the questions and responses posted by all of the participants. Your best strategy is to submit your question early, and post as many high quality responses as you can in each discussion. Then, if you are not earning discussion grades that are as high as you would like, you will know that you must work harder in future modules.
Please note, the number of quality points I award for your discussion questions and responses is not negotiable.

Response Categories [based on Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2002)]

Not all of your discussion posts will earn points. Only those that fall into one (or more) of the following three categories will be graded:

1. Social Presence is the ability of participants in an online course to project their personal characteristics into the online community of learning - to present themselves as "real people." There are at least three forms of social presence:

    • Affective - The expression of emotion, feelings, and mood
    • Interactive - Evidence that you are reading, attending, understanding, thinking about other's responses
    • Cohesive - Responses that build and sustain a sense of 'belongingness', group commitment, ore common goals and objectives

It is important to establish a community of learning in an online course. One way to facilitate this is to provide social reinforcement to your fellow students. When you agree or disagree with what another student writes, you are providing such feedback. When you respond with an expression of emotion, that can also demonstrate social presence. Responses which provide this type of feedback will receive points, depending on the quality, extent, and frequency they occur. For example, a student who says "I agree" may get a point the first time, but no points subsequently.

The 'Criteria' tables below list a few general characteristics of possible discussion submissions. It is the responsibility of the professor to subjectively evaluate each discussion response and award quality points accordingly. Remember: the number of quality points I award to each discussion post is not negotiable. I retain the right to determine the value of each submission.


Social Presence - Criteria


The post projects your personal characteristics into the community of learning - presents yourself as a "real person."

  • Affective - The expression of emotion, feelings, and mood
  • Interactive - Evidence that you are reading, attending, understanding, thinking about other's responses
  • Cohesive - Responses that build and sustain a sense of belongingness, group commitment, ore common goals and objectives

2. Cognitive Presence is the extent to which students are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained discourse (discussion) in a community of inquiry. Cognitive presence can be demonstrated by introducing factual, conceptual, and theoretical knowledge into the discussion. The value of such a response will depend upon the source, clarity, accuracy and comprehensiveness of the knowledge.


Cognitive Presence - Criteria

0 or ungraded

Unrated response. The post adds no academic value to the discussion. No new information is presented.


The post contains at least one usable fact or piece of information. However, the fact or information is available from the textbook.


The post contains at least one usable fact or piece of information. However, the fact or information is not available from the textbook.

Very high

The post makes a substantial academic contribution. Material is included that is not available just by reading the textbook, and some issue or concept is clarified.


The post contains documented information that contributes greatly to the understanding of some issue under discussion. The new information is explained and applied such that the reader gains new insight into the material being studied.

3. Teaching Presence is the facilitation and direction of cognitive and social process for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes. There are two major ways students can add teaching presence to a discussion:

A. By facilitating the discussion:

      1. Identifying areas of agreement and disagreement
      2. Seeking to reach consensus / understanding
      3. Encouraging, acknowledging and reinforcing student contributions
      4. Setting a climate for learning
      5. Drawing in participants / prompting discussion
      6. Assessing the efficacy of the process

B. By direct instruction

      1. Presenting content and questions
      2. Focusing the discussion
      3. Summarizing the discussion
      4. Confirming understanding
      5. Diagnosing misperceptions
      6. Injecting knowledge from diverse sources
      7. Responding to technical concerns


Teaching Presence - Criteria

0 or ungraded

Unrated response. The post adds no teaching presence or other to the discussion.


The post contains one instance of teaching presence (from the list above).


The post contains two instances of teaching presence (from the list above).

Very high

The post contains three instances of teaching presence (from the list above).


The post contains four or more instances of teaching presence (from the list above).

One final note (very important!!) about your discussion posts... USE A DESCRIPTIVE 'SUBJECT' - create a subject which describes the issue or point you are trying to make. Examples of unacceptable subjects: "Re" / "Response to Alice" / "Alice" / "I Agree" / "Another idea" / etc. I should be able to tell what you are writing about just by reading the Subject of your post.


Your discussion questions, discussion responses, and Website summaries are graded on a point system. If you remember the following general guidelines, it will help you earn additional points on your discussion responses:

    1. Teach us something
    2. Make us think
    3. Help us feel that we are a community of learning
    4. Document your information

Finally - there are 2 fields you must complete each time you respond: the subject field and the comment field. Make sure that the subject you create gives us a good idea about what you are commenting on.

based in part on material from William Pelz, Herkimer CC, SUNY

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