Tracking and Encouraging ParticipationIt can be challenging to get students to participate in their own learning, even in face-to-face courses.  Online courses can add their own sets of obstacles to getting “all hands on deck” in your course.  The good news is that you can work to ensure your students are participating actively on their learning journey.  Once they are engaged in your course how you track their participation is important.  Tracking participation can also act as a catalyst for increasing participation.

Use the following 6 methods to help encourage and track participation:

  1. Use the Tools
  2. Team Ownership
  3. Encourage Interaction
  4. Grade Quantity & Quality
  5. Statistically Speaking
  6. Reaching Out


Use the ToolsLearning a foreign language would be awfully difficult if you rarely spoke it. Many of us took a few hours of a foreign language as part of our degree plan, but can’t remember much beyond “please” and “thank you.”   In the same way it is difficult to participate in an online course if you are not actively using the tools within the course environment.    If your students use their online course rarely their participation in their own learning starts to drop.

Having students submit assignments in the course environment rather than e-mail, Work on a project collaboratively with a wiki rather than their own or participating in a threaded discussion rather than an e-mail exchange will foster more participation in your online course.

Here are some examples of tools that encourage class participation:

  • Discussion Forums
  • Peer Assessment
  • Group Pages
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Due Dates (Course Notifications)
  • Assignment Tool
  • Surveys & Exams


There’s a great saying in education circles about how teaching has evolved. College professors have gone from being the “Sage on the Stage” to being a “Guide on the Side“. After hearing it so often at educational conferences and teaching symposiums it may start to become trite, but it still holds true. Part of being a Guide on the Side is involving your students actively in their learning journey. Fortunately most Learning Management systems have plenty of tools that encourage students to take ownership of the their learning process.

Students will participate more if they believe they have “skin in the game” when it comes to your course. Giving them responsibility besides just reading and regurgitating can help get them engaged in the learning process. Let’s look at two Blackboard tool areas that can help in this regard.

Discussion Forum Roles
You can assign specific roles to student in any of your Blackboard discussion forums. The roles are as follows:

Role Permissions
Manager The Manager has full control over the forum and can change the forum settings moderate posts, and assign grades.
Users with a course role of Instructor of Teaching Assistant are granted this role by default.
Builder The Builder can change the forum’s settings and delete threads.
Moderator The Moderator can delete, edit, and lock all posts in any forum, even if the forum does not use the Moderation Queue.
If a Moderation Queue is used, the Moderator may approve or reject posts in the queue before they are made available to all users.
Grader Grader can read and reply to posts. Grader can review posts and enter grades. Users with a course role of Grader are granted this forum role by default. They have some access to Grade Center. Graders may not view their own work.
Participant Participant can read and reply to posts.
Users with a course role of “Student” are granted this role by default.
Reader Reader can read the contents of a forum, but cannot post responses of add threads.
Blocked user A blocked user cannot access the forum.

By making your students Graders, Builders, Moderators or managers you equip them help facilitate an actiity and take an active part in their learning.

Blackboard Group Pages
The Blackboard Group Pages tool is another great way for students to become content creators in your course. Whether they participate in group discussions, chat, use the file exchange or work collaboratively in group wikis or blogs, students have an outlet to create from scratch or from your guidelines their own content.


InteractionsHave you ever felt left out of a discussion? When you are contributing to an effort, how does it feel to not be recognized for that contribution? Recognizing the contributions of the students in your online classes is key to increasing their participation.  Here are some strategies for success:

  • Reply to a handful of discussion posts for each forum picking different students each time
  • Give Kudos and Challenges (recognize the contributions and offer challenges to encourage your students to reach beyond)
  • For larger classes do one summary post for each discussion mentioning students by name

If students believe you are actually reading their contributions they will work harder to ensure quality and quantity of their efforts.


One easy way to foster contributions to asynchronous discussions in your online courses is to grade on the number of posts made.  Quality is vitally important and should always be the main metric when ensuring that your students grasp the subject matter, but assigning a grade for quantity will ensure that you have more of a back and forth dialog in your online discussions.

When assigning point values for discussion forums, split the points over the original response and replies.  For example a discussion forum with a grade value of 15 points me be split across 10 points for the original post and 5 points for the replies.  When writing your discussion instructions be sure to let the students know that they must create their original post as well as reply to 2 or three of their colleagues. 

Note: Make this part of your Syllabus as well and part of the Syllabus Quiz for extra emphasis.


StatisticsHaving Statistics on student activity in your course is a powerful weapon for tracking participation. Knowing how much time a student spent in a particular unit or how long it has been since they have logged into your course provides important information.

Blackboard offers multiple ways to track student activity in your online course(s).  You can designate areas of your course that you want to pay particular attention to by the Track Number of Views option when you add content to your course.  You can also run Course Reports via the Evaluation section of your Control Panel that can show statistics across the entire class or just for one person or group.

One of the best tools for tracking course participation and activity is the Performance Dashboard. The Performance Dashboard tool provides a window into all types of user activity in a course or organization. All users enrolled in the course are listed, with pertinent information about that user’s progress and activity in the course.

The Dashboard allows you to see the date/time since last login for your students as well as Items the student has marked as reviewed (using the Review Status option on the Syllabus for example).  It also has a view of their grades for a 360 degree view of the student.


Reaching OutAn important strategy that falls in line with tracking and encouraging participation is reaching out to those students who appear to be behind or are performing poorly.  An e-mail query to show that you are concerned is always a good idea.  Retention is one of those buzz words around online education and this strategy can assist in your efforts to retain students.

Here is where you can work with the tools within the LMS to understand why the student is having a hard time.  Using a combination of grade center scores, performance dashboard and student statistics can assist you in determining where the pain points for the student might be.  Paying attention to discussion posts, time on task and objective scoring can help you work with your student on focusing their efforts.   You can also create Retention Center rules that can help you identify and reach out to these students before the problems become insurmountable.