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Making the Grade in myCourses

Teaching for learning blog - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 10:50

The Gradebook tool in myCourses has many powerful options to make managing your class easier. That said,  it can also be one of the more daunting aspects of myCourses. That’s understandable—grades are a high-stakes matter. Here are some tips to help you use the myCourses Gradebook, along with some tricks to ensure that you’ve done everything correctly.

While this blog post is not directly about setting up your gradebook, you can find more information in the IT Knowledgebase (using the Setup Wizard, creating grades items). Setting it up will be another blog post!

Making grades visible to students

myCourses makes it easy for you to disseminate grades for any component of your class. If the grade item is marked as visible, students will be able to see how they performed. In general, it’s a good practice to hide your grade items at first. This is because as you are entering grades, you are able to make any adjustments without alerting your students. Then when you’re sure the grades are ready, you can change the grade item from hidden to visible.

To change the status of a grade item from hidden to visible and vice-versa: in the Gradebook tool:

  1. Click Manage Grades.
  2. Click Edit Grade Item in the drop-down menu next to a specific grade item.
  3. In the Restrictions tab, you are able to change the visibility settings; options include Hide this grade item and Grade item is always visible.

When a grade item is hidden, you’ll see a closed eyelid next to the grade item. In the example below, the Midterm Exam and Participation grades will be hidden from students.

It is possible to verify from your end what students see when they go to check their grades. In the Gradebook, click on a student’s name. At the top of the new page that appears, click on the drop-down menu next to their name, and click Preview. The view that appears is exactly what the student sees. If the grades are not appearing as you would like them to, you can adjust your grade item restrictions and/or your display settings.

Encourage students to sign up for notifications so that they are alerted via email or text when their grades are updated.

Calculated versus adjusted final grades

The rightmost columns in your spreadsheet are the Calculated Final Grade and the Adjusted Final Grade (provided that you haven’t disabled it while completing the Setup Wizard). The Calculated Final Grade calculates students’ final grades based on the weights you have assigned to the grade items in your gradebook. The Adjusted Final Grade allows you to make changes to the calculated final grade; for example, if the student is between two grades and you believe that they deserve to be bumped up, you can make the adjustment in the Adjusted Final Grade column. Note that myCourses will not allow you to make any changes to the Calculated Final Grade.

To transfer the Calculated Final Grades to the Adjusted Final Grades column, click on the drop-down menu next to Adjusted Final Grade and click Grade All. When the new page appears, click on the drop-down menu next to Final Grades and click Transfer All. You can also transfer the grades one-by-one.

Here you have several options to adjust students’ grades. After the grades have been transferred, you are able to adjust the numerator and/or denominator of students’ grades. If you click on the Calculator button as in the screenshot above, you are also able to choose which grade items to include in the calculation for a students’ final adjusted grade. By clicking on the speech bubble in the Feedback column, you are able to provide a personalized note to students that they will see when they check their grades, provided you have released the grade to students.

When you have finalized your grades, you can then release the final adjusted grades to students by clicking on the drop-down menu next to Final Grades at the top of the page and clicking Release All. Please note, though, that the grades in myCourses are considered “unofficial”; grades must be submitted to Minerva, which brings me to my next point…

Exporting to Minerva

myCourses makes it very easy to submit transfer your final grades to Minerva. There is an Export to Minerva wizard available in the Gradebook tool. Instructions are available here; our friends at IT Services made a video to guide you through the process, too.

Sorting, Filtering, and Statistics

By default, the Gradebook will sort the gradebook by students’ first names. You can change this by clicking on the Last Name field at the top of the Gradebook so that it sorts by students’ last names. You can also sort the gradebook from highest-to-lowest or lowest-to-highest grade based on individual grade items; simply click on the title of a grade item column in your gradebook to sort this way.

You can also filter the Gradebook by Groups (if you use the Groups tool) and/or by Section (if the course is crosslisted). At the top of the Gradebook, change the settings from View By: User to View By: Group, select the Group you would like to see, and click Apply. This can be particularly handy for courses in which Teaching Assistants are responsible for grading certain groups of students. In this case, they are able to focus on only the students for whom they are responsible.


Once you have entered grades in your Gradebook, you can get statistics for the individual grade items as well as the Final Calculated Grade and the Final Adjusted Grade. Click on the drop-down menu next to the grade item and click Statistics. Here you can see the minimum grade, maximum grade, average, mode, median, standard deviation, and grade distribution.

You can also filter the statistics by Section and/or by Group. For example: if you teach a cross-listed course consisting of undergraduates and graduates, you could use View By: Section to see the statistical differences between the undergraduate and graduate students. Or, if you have Groups organized by Teaching Assistant, as in the example above, you could use View By: Group to verify grading consistency.

“Grade All”

Looking at the entire Gradebook spreadsheet can be overwhelming, especially if you have many grade items. If you click on the drop-down menu next to a grade item and click Grade All, a new page will open that is just that single grade item.

You can also use the Grade All tool to provide the same grade to all students in the class without entering it for each student. You can also use Grade All to provide students with personalized feedback on their individual grade, which they can view when they check their Grades in myCourses, provided the grade item is visible to students.

Did you know?

  • When setting up Assignments, Quizzes, or Discussions, you can link the Assignment, Quiz, or Discussion grade with a grade item in your Gradebook. This means that when you give your students a grade on the Assignment, Quiz, or Discussion, the grade you give will transfer directly to the Gradebook—no need to enter the grades twice!
  • myCourses can and will do all the math for you. For example, if you’re grading an assignment out of 46 points but it only counts for 37% of the grade, set the maximum points for the assignment to 46 and the weight to 37%. Then, you can enter students’ grades for the assignment out of 46 in the Gradebook.
  • The Categories option can be useful for managing many assignments. For example, if students can choose to submit 8 out of 10 assignments, you can configure the gradebook such that 2 assignments will be dropped.
  • You can use the gradebook to assign Bonus marks without adjusting individual grade items.

Want to test things out?

You and any Teaching Assistants appear in the gradebook – you can verify your gradebook settings by assigning different grades to yourself and your Teaching Assistants. This gives you a chance to test all possible scenarios without affect the students’ grades. However, you will want to remove these grades if you are looking at grade statistics.

I hope this post helps you feel more comfortable using the Gradebook tool in myCourses. To request a one-on-one consultation or a custom group workshop to learn more about any of the tools available in myCourses, please fill out this form.

The effects of Twitter on student engagement and learning

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 10:27

Adam Finkelstein:

A great summary of a recent article submitted by Lauren Soluk and Chris Buddle on the effects of Twitter on student engagement and learning. Thanks Chris for sharing your findings!

Originally posted on Arthropod Ecology:

There are lots of ‘feel good’ stories about using Twitter in teaching, and I’ve long been a supporting of using social media in undergraduate classes. But does it work…? What effects does Twitter have on learning?

An example of a student Tweet, used to promote their blog post.

This was a question we decided to tackle in my field biology class, and recently, in a collaboration with Lauren Soluk (as part of her graduate work), we surveyed students about using Twitter in the classroom*. Here are the take-home messages from the work:

  • Students Tweeted over 200% more than what was required as part of the course work
  • Students used Twitter in many different ways, from informal communication, to promoting their own blogs, to asking questions of each other or of the course instructors and TA.
  • Students used Twitter to communicate with their instructor or TA 56% of the…

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Being a layperson in pharmacology

Teaching for learning blog - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 09:49

My identities in life are many – a staff member at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services, a mother–daughter-sister-wife, a former waitress-house painter-birthday party animator, etc. However, thanks to Prof. Terry Hébert in Pharmacology, I can now add “lay person” to the list.  Last week, Prof. Hébert invited me and a group of other non-pharmacology types to read student papers and provide comments.

The twist is that the assigned work in this 500 level course is not the typical term paper, lit review or annotated bibliography that you might expect. Instead, Prof. Hébert asks his students to read recently published articles from scientific journals like Nature and Cell, and to rewrite them as articles for the public – like something you might read in the New York Times. Prof. Hébert, after grading these articles, hands them over to me and the other “lay people” and charges us with providing feedback from a non-specialist’s point of view. The purpose of the exercise is for students to practice communicating science to the public – an extremely important skill and one that is sorely lacking in the general media. This assignment is a fantastic opportunity for students to see how important their scientific background is and to better understand some of the ways they can use their knowledge to make a difference.

I tackled my job with great enthusiasm, delving into the student articles, ready to learn something new.  However, as I started reading, I couldn’t help feeling the stress that I know many students feel when assigned peer feedback assignments. Circling in my head were questions like: What if just don’t get it? What if I say something stupid?  How can I avoid hurting people’s feelings? Will my feedback be useful or am I just wasting my time?

In the end, I did manage to overcome my unease and write some comments that proved at least moderately helpful. When I visited the class with three other lay people, I was impressed by the students’ graciousness and willingness to help us understand some of the more difficult concepts.  Overall, the experience was rewarding and fun.   I work mostly with faculty, and it is a rare treat to interact with students and see their commitment to learning.  I also learned many new facts: did you know zebrafish can regenerate their hearts? I didn’t but I have a new-found respect for scientists seeking to treat human heart failure by investigating this phenomenon.

Still, the whole process made me wonder about the way peer feedback is often used in classrooms.  Just as I questioned my ability to evaluate these students’ papers, I know many students feel uncomfortable judging each other’s work. How can they be expected to provide a critical and constructive perspective when they are just learning the fundamentals themselves? Even an upper level undergraduate is still a disciplinary novice.

For professors, the allure of integrating peer feedback into the classroom is strong: writing is a crucial skill for students to develop and much of the research suggests that peer learning and assessment can be quite effective for developing critical thinking, communication, lifelong learning, and collaborative skills. However, research also shows that there are problems with student-to-student feedback: the quality may be uneven, and validity and reliability may be limited.

So what can be done to use peer feedback in ways that are most helpful for students and not overly burdensome for faculty? I looked to the literature on peer review and found some intriguing responses in the work of authors like Nilson and Walvoord. According to these authors, asking students to make observations about one another’s work might be more effective than asking them to make judgements. Typically, profs who use peer feedback, ask their students to answer questions such as:

  • Is the central idea clear throughout the paper?
  • Is sufficient background provided?
  • How logical is the organization of the paper?

These types of questions demand that students understand how knowledge is presented in the discipline and to comment on the quality of argumentation.  In essence, students need to operate as experts in the field – no easy task, not even for graduate students.  Nilson suggests an alternative: ask students to reflect on their reading of the paper, to describe their experience and identify key elements such as the main points and evidence. In this approach, the reader does not critique but observes, and the professor can encourage this by providing guiding questions such as:

  • What one or two adjectives would you choose to describe the title of the paper?
  • What do you think is the thesis of the paper? Paraphrase it below.
  • List the main points of the paper.
  • What are the writer’s justifications (readings, logic, evidence, etc.) for taking the positions that he or she does?

I can immediately see the application of these types of questions to the pharmacology assignment. What if my task had been structured around questions like: What is the discovery in this article? Who made it? Why is it important? Had I seen my role more as a reader than an evaluator, I may have embraced the job even more, feeling qualified to comment on my understanding without needing to judge the quality of the work or the logic of the explanation.

It’s also possible that this type of approach is more helpful to student writers. When they read their peer’s feedback, they can learn what it’s like to have a real audience, and  decide how to reformulate the writing to better express their ideas — as long as there are opportunities built in for rewrites, this could be very helpful.

At the end of the day, I felt honoured to be invited to take part in this exercise. I could see all the thought and care that went into the design of an alternative pedagogical strategy such as this one, and I admired how students stepped up to take risks and share their work with strangers. This type of assignment makes it clear how much undergraduates can contribute when given the opportunity.

Thank you Prof. Hébert and students for opening the classroom door and inviting in the lay people  – I hope to visit again!

  • Nilson, L.B. (Winter 2003) Improving Student Peer Feedback. College Teaching, Vol. 51, No. 1:34-38.
  • Walvoord, B.E., and Anderson V.J. (1998). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Formative – free student response / online formative assessment tool

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 12:21

Adam Finkelstein:

An interesting student response system designed to give a greater range of formative feedback to students on their learning. Of particular note is the ability for students to “show their work” as they work on a class problem. If anyone is interested in trying this tool, or has tried it already, please let us know.

Originally posted on ICT Across the Curriculum:

Formative is an online student response system / online formative assessment tool which is made by teachers from across the US and is free for teachers and students. The tool enables a range of responses including multiple choice, numeric, text, drawing and taking pictures. Assessments are shared with students via a quick link or access code and student responses are sent to the teacher in realtime so that early intervention and tracking of student responses can be undertaken.

This video provides a useful overview of the tool.

There is also a useful tutorial video which shows you how to upload and convert a .pdf into a digital formative assessment. This video helps to show you the potential of the tool for setting online assessments as homework or classwork. As student work is completed it can be monitored in realtime.

I really like the potential of this and hope to give…

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Student for a day (Part 3): operation dissection

Teaching for learning blog - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 11:25

Adam Finkelstein:

The third and final post in the “Student for a day” series by contributor Chris Buddle. Thank you Chris for your thoughtful reflections on the student experience!

Originally posted on Arthropod Ecology:

This is the third and final post about going back to the classroom: you can find the first post hereand the second one here.

We rushed from the lecture hall to the basement of the main teaching complex on campus. I walked down the hall towards the lab, that old familiar smell was in the air: it was the “face-muscle dissection day” in Comparative Anatomy. This took me immediately back to my undergraduate days at the University of Guelph.  There were just over a dozen students in the lab, and the ‘specimens’ (I shall NOT mention what they were!) were sitting on stainless steel lab tables, with the dissection gear at the ready. Scalpel? CHECK. Forceps? CHECK. Scissors? CHECK. It was operation: dissection. I was nervous…. then I was handed rubber gloves and a labcoat. I was WAY out of my element…

The instructor started with…

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Student for a day (Part 2): the lecture hall

Teaching for learning blog - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 10:26

Adam Finkelstein:

The second of Chris Buddle’s series on being a student for a day. Thanks Chris, we look forward to part three!

Originally posted on Arthropod Ecology:

This is the second of a three-part series on going back to the classroom: check out the first part here.

So far I was enjoying shadowing students for a day: I was excited after my exposure to the research project course, and was fuelled up on coffee as I checked the schedule, wolfed down my lunch and met my next chaperone. We walked together to a different building and to a more traditional setting: a lecture hall. The class was about animal health, and the content was about a retained placenta in cows, and how this affects bovine health and how the retained placenta might lead to other uterine diseases. The instructor, after setting up the Powerpoint, first took 5-10 minutes to ask the class questions from the last lecture. It was clear that this was a normal start to each lecture as the students had dutifully prepared…

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Student for a day (Part 1): spaces for discussion

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:06

Adam Finkelstein:

Chris Buddle, Associate Dean for the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (and regular blog contributor) writes a thought provoking piece about being a student for a day. The first of three parts, stay tuned for more…

Originally posted on Arthropod Ecology:

Yesterday I went back to the classroom and shadowed undergraduate students for the day. I did this because I just don’t really know what happens in classrooms. As an Associate Dean, I feel a responsibility to be aware of what students face throughout their day. I think this will help me gain perspective in my administrative role, and allow me insights into other instructional styles and approaches to teaching and learning in different contexts. After all, I really only know my way of teaching: I’ve not been an undergraduate student for a very long time.

Due to a bit of poor planning on my part, and since we are nearing the ‘end of term madness’, I wasn’t able to get a schedule for the whole day, and instead attended only three classes, with two different students. These students were my chaperones, and took me under their wing as they went…

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Emaze – an alternative to PowerPoint?

Teaching for learning blog - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 10:42

Adam Finkelstein:

With everyone actively looking for PowerPoint alternatives, here is an interesting possibility. Very slick looking templates, all web based, and might work well for certain types of presentations. Any instructors that try this out, please let us know how it goes in the comments!

Originally posted on ICT Across the Curriculum:

Emaze looks like a potentially useful tool which can be put to good use in education, whether it is for students to create online presentations for homework or assessment purposes, or for teachers that want to create a presentation with a different look to PowerPoint with stunning visual effects for added impact, either in the classroom, or for creating CPD presentations for training purposes.

Emaze is also said to have  animation facilities which surpass those available on Powerpoint. It is a cloud based technology so you can access your presentations from anywhere. Another benefit is that it is multi-device so that it can be viewed and edited on PCs/ tablets / smartphones etc. There are also ready made templates and slides which can be easily edited.

Whilst Emaze wont replace my use of PowerPoint and SMART notebook in my teaching I can certainly see the benefit of having another tool in the toolkit when wanting to…

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Take the active learning challenge

Teaching for learning blog - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:41

Adam Finkelstein:

A great article by Chris Buddle on his efforts to include active learning in every class. Congratulations to Chris on his success! We look forward to hearing more as the term progresses.

Originally posted on Arthropod Ecology:

Dear Instructors,

Here’s your challenge: Include active learning activities in every lecture.

Just do it.

Active learning is a philosophy and approach in which teaching moves beyond the ‘podium-style’ lecture and directly includes students in the learning process. There is certainly a big movement out there to include active learning in the classroom, there is evidence that it works, and active learning strategies have been around for a long time. Active learning can make learning experience more interactive, inclusive, and help embrace different learning styles. Active learning places the student in a more central role in a classroom, and allows students to engage with the course and course content in a different way.

So, why doesn’t everyone embrace active learning?

Without a doubt, it can take a bit of extra work. This post by Meghan Duffy provides an excellent case study, and illustrates the benefits and drawbacks of…

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From the Campus to MOOC: Reflections of a Student Assistant

Teaching for learning blog - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 09:00

McGillX offered its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the edX platform in January 2014 and has now offered two MOOCs, started a third and has one more more in the pipe.  Serving as a student assistant for CHEM181x: Food for Thought, I was myself a learner in a new environment. To be honest, I had never heard of a MOOC until I was offered the position in November 2013. In joining the McGillX team, my role would be to both assist in the course development and serve as one of two discussion moderators.

Word cloud generated from CHEM181x January 2014 discussion forum by McGillX

Having served as a student assistant for the on-campus offering of CHEM181, I had experience with the subject matter and with addressing students’ questions. In a class as large as CHEM181 we, the student assistants, tried to make use of the myCourses discussion forum to address student questions. I was aware of the sometimes daunting task of offering written directions and explanations. As one might expect, the majority of questions we received were related to the exam’s content. In response, we stressed the points that were essential to the exam.

CHEM181x had over 30,000 students registered in the course, with only two student assistants. Despite the scale of the CHEM181x, I expected a small volume of student questions, given that CHEM181x is a non-credit course. At the time of the course release, the entire McGillX team was at their computers waiting and watching the discussion forum. In the first hour, the discussion flooded with hundreds of discussion posts by students introducing themselves from all parts of the world. One of many lessons we would learn was how to better leverage the edX platform to encourage student interaction, getting students to attempt to address their own questions as well as those of others; we realized this was essential to managing the volume of discussion posts.

To my surprise, students’ questions stretched the bounds of my knowledge of the course content, requiring that I research the literature in order to address their questions. What’s more, the students assisted in the process of finding answers, posting articles and offering their understanding with respect to their own, and each other’s, questions. Because the course is not for credit, the students are involved for one primary reason, they want to learn—something that is often lost in the panic of studying for exams and trying to maintain a high GPA while completing one’s degree.

Snapshot of some of the GMO discussion.

On the discussion forum I started to recognize students’ usernames, helping me to better understand the origin of their questions. With one student, I found myself in a debate about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We went back and forth for several weeks, each of us taking time to research before returning to the argument. After the first week, I noticed that we had a crowd of spectators from the McGillX team and other students in CHEM181x. If I may say so myself, I’m pretty certain most were on my side.

My experience as a student assistant taught me many things. Above all, I came to acknowledge that we all come from different backgrounds, and thus are inclined to different interpretations of information provided to us, giving a new meaning to the saying “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” This semester, the on-campus offering of CHEM181 has been put online, with the new course structure and content included. In a similar fashion to the offering on edX students will interact with the materials online using the myCourses platform.  I am eager to see how students’ participation in McGill’s CHEM181 will compare with CHEM181x.

Customizing the Content Module in myCourses

Teaching for learning blog - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 09:00

Have you ever wondered how you might spice up your content modules in myCourses? If you are looking for something new to add to your course content, this post will show you how you can customize a module in myCourses so that it looks more like a web page.

Here is a sample page that you can create within the content tool in myCourses. Once created, the page is displayed when you click on the module. Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

To start, you create a new module under “Table of Contents”. Once the module is created, open the module and click on “Add a description…” (See image below)

This will open a text box with Word-like formatting functions. You can type in text, change font, colors and style. In addition, by clicking on the “Insert Stuff” button at the top-left of the window, you can add images, embed videos, add documents, as well as modify HTML code for those of you who are more tech-savvy. Clicking on “Insert Stuff” will open a second window where you can choose a variety of formats. In the following image, I’ve decided to insert a YouTube video that I searched for with key words. The search displayed a list of videos from YouTube that I could select by clicking on the item.

To embed the video you simply click on “Next” and then “Insert”. The video will be embedded into your text-editing window.

You can play around with the functions to see what works best for you. Depending on the size of your window, sometimes not all the formatting options will be displayed. If that is the case, just click on the box at the top-right with the three dots; this will display all hidden options.

Don’t forget to change your module from “Published” to “Draft” so that your students will only see the changes once you are satisfied with the final result.

Once you click on update, you can visualize how it will look in your content module. Beneath the description you can upload or add files, as you normally do when adding content to the module. You can come back to the module later and modify this area (called the description area) by simply clicking on the area with your mouse (see image below). This will open the formatting window we saw earlier.

How do you customize your content modules in myCourses? Post your ideas below!


The Body Matters – BODY101x – McGill’s 3rd MOOC has begun

Teaching for learning blog - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 12:21

McGill has just released its third MOOC, The Body Matters (BODY101x) on the edX platform. This course is 10 weeks long and focuses on benefits of physical activity, how to prevent injuries as well as what to do when an injury occurs. Dr. Ian Shrier is the primary instructor (@ianshrier) along with many other guests who are all experts in their field. Over 23,000 students have enrolled from over 180 countries. Have a look at a more detailed description of this MOOC along with the intro video:

Exercise is promoted as a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle. Ever wonder why? Exercise is more than just an “art of converting big meals and fattening snacks into back strains and pulled muscles by lifting heavy things that don’t need to be moved, or running when no one is chasing you.” Our bodies evolved to move over several millennia.

Did you know that physically active obese individuals live longer than inactive thin individuals? Are you interested in seeing the evidence on the benefits and risks of stretching? What is the best way to treat your ankle, knee, and/or shoulder injury? How does injury affect mood and what are the consequences?

Whether you are a competitive athlete, an aspiring musician or dancer, whether you play for fun or just want to lead an active lifestyle, this course will entertain and challenge you. Topics will include basic and advanced principles of body movement and biological, psychological and social issues related to activity/sport/injury/rehabilitation. The course will include content from leading international experts in multiple fields related to the science of exercise.

Have a look at the introductory video below for a great summary of what the course is about:

The Reporter just recently released an article about the online course with an interview with Dr. Ian Shrier.

This MOOC is free for anyone to register and has no prerequisites. If you are interested, head over to the registration page and register now! See the McGillx page on the Teaching and Learning Services website for more information on McGill’s MOOCs.

Making the Most of Online Discussions in myCourses

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 02/17/2015 - 09:00

The Discussions feature on myCourses can be an invaluable tool to promote engagement and to extend the classroom beyond its physical location. This post focuses on a number of different features that can help you make the most of your myCourses discussions.

Creating Forums and Topics

By default, your myCourses page does not come with a discussion board enabled. When creating your discussion board, you will be prompted to create both a topic and a forum. A forum is a category of discussion, while a topic is the space where you and the students can post threads and replies. The image below demonstrates the distinction between forums and topics.

Sometimes instructors find that online discussions can get overwhelming. Keeping your discussions organized – when forums and topics are clearly labeled with their purpose – will make it easier for your students to participate and for you to manage your online discussions.

Some ways to categorize your discussions might be: by class topic, by week, by conference/lab/tutorial sections, and by assignment/project.


myCourses allows you to “subscribe” to topics and/or forums. This means that you will receive a notification in your minibar (see example) whenever sometime posts in that topic and/or forum. For instance, you may be interested in subscribing to your discussions if you have a dedicated “Questions for the Instructor” section.

You can also sign up for instant notifications so that you receive an email whenever someone posts in a discussion forum or topic to which you have subscribed. Don’t worry – you won’t get any emails unless you sign up for them!

Modifying your View Settings

Adjusting your view settings can make it easier to see everything going on in your discussion board at-a-glance. Enabling the “Discussion List pane” in your personal settings will allow you to toggle quickly between different topics and forums. The numbers in the right column indicate the number of unread posts.

While the view settings have changed recently, we are hopeful that the previous “grid view” will be restored soon. We will keep you posted on any developments.

Types of Content

Participants are not limited to simply posting text in discussions. You and your students can include pictures, embed Youtube videos, attach files, link to external content, and more! The text editor also allows you to include tables and mathematical formulas through the Equation Editor. If you wish to get creative, you can also play with fonts, sizes, colours, and more.

Group Discussions and Individual Journals

The Groups tool allows you to create groups of students – manually, automatically, or student-selected. When creating the groups, you also have the option to create group discussions. Group members will only have access to their own group’s journal, while you and any Teaching Assistants with sufficient permissions will be able to access all groups’ journals.

You can similarly use this tool to create groups of one and thus create individual student journals.

Rating Schemes

myCourses has an option to allow students to rate posts—either with a five-star rating scheme, up and down vote, or up vote only. While I encourage you to exercise caution with this tool, it certainly is one way to energize discussions. You can enable this for your entire discussion board or for individual topics.

Assessed Discussions

Have you considered including participation in online discussions as a component of your class participation grade? myCourses allows you to assess discussions and even connect your assessed discussions to your gradebook, so that the marks transfer automatically. You can either assess a student’s participation in the overall topic or assess each individual message.

Anonymous Posts & Moderation

You can enable anonymous discussion posts—by forum and/or by topic. Similarly, you can require a moderator to approve posts. Using these tools can be a great way to receive mid-course evaluation feedback.


Want to see at-a-glance which of your students are participating in online discussions? You are able to view (and download) statistics that include the number of posts that students have read, authored, and replied to. You can also view which forums and topics are the most active.

Discussions can be a valuable tool to promote student interaction and engagement, especially in large classes. The index of documentation for instructors using myCourses is available here. If you are interested in learning more about myCourses, you can either request a consultation here or send us an email at tls@mcgill.ca.