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#SundayShare: Why Are There Multiple Sites?

#SundayShare: Why Are There Multiple Sites? published on

You may wonder why we have more than one website for the course. In SPOT survey responses from last year, students said that there were times when they weren’t sure which website to use. One student commented, “This class was so confusing. There was so many different websites with content we had to keep up with on it.”

I certainly don’t want any of you to be confused, so I want to explain a bit more about the course sites with these FAQs.

What are the websites for the course?

We have three websites that are important to this course:

  • The Canvas site: You will turn in all your graded assignments on the Canvas site. You can also find links every day in the Announcements.
  • The Course Website (this site): the location for all course materials, daily readings, weekly work, policies, and other documents.
  • The Assignments Website: the location of the assignments for all major assignments.

If you are working toward a grade higher than a B, you may also be visiting a third site: our group on Facebook.

Why are there so many different sites?

The three main sites are intended to work together

  1. Protect Your Privacy: The Canvas site has all of the university-approved FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 [U.S. Public Law 93-579]) protections in place that make sure your grades and related feedback are secure. It’s federal law that I make sure your information remains private, so the Canvas site is a must.
  2. Ensure Free, Open Resources: Textbooks cost a lot of money, which is why I am committed to using free materials as much as possible in this course. Virginia Tech can claim ownership of content that is posted in Canvas (according to IT anyway). I use my own websites so that I control the intellectual property rights for everything I write. If it’s mine, I can make sure it’s free.
  3. Save Time: Lots of course resources change a little bit from term to term, but there are some that essentially stay the same. In particular I noticed that the writing assignments for the major projects were not changing from one term to the next. I added the Assignments Website to save time, which I can then use to respond to your questions and take care of other thing for the course.

Why the separate Facebook Group?

The group page on Facebook is a little different main sites. I find the Discussions tool in Canvas awkward. It’s hard to see related comments easily, and everything is in one gigantic forum.

I have tried Slack, which I personally like. Students, however, haven’t responded as well. They find it hard to follow the ideas, which are not always visually separate. The long, scrolling text can be overwhelming. It doesn’t make sense to add one more thing for you to learn when it doesn’t work for everyone, so I stopped using Slack.

I also tried Piazza, which I know many engineering students are familiar with. I love that Piazza was designed by a woman engineer to help women do better communicating in their courses. The problem was that I never figured out how to manage the flow of ideas properly. I never felt sure that I was reading and responding to everything I should. I hated feeling that I might be missing someone’s question, so I gave up on Piazza.

I ended up choosing Facebook (for now anyway). It collects all the related comments together visually. It’s easy to tell one idea from the next. I know that Facebook is an “old person’s tool”; but students usually have a login and they know how it works. There’s nothing to learn, and it does everything we need it to.

How is the main course website set up?

The main course site seems logical to me of course. I made it, so I know where everything is. But that doesn’t mean it seems logical to you, so here’s what to find under each of the menus on the site:

The Home Page
All of the daily posts for the course in reverse chronological order (the most recent posts are at the top). This is where to look for details on what to read and what to do each week. Additionally, find the daily posts that give you additional information about the assignments and other topics in the course.
Official information on the course set up and policies (just like the syllabus in a face-to-face classroom). This additional course information is located under this pull-down menu on every page of the site.

Accessibility Information
Details on special accommodations for the course, including information on how to get more help.
Schedule of Due Dates
A list of the work that is due in the course. This menu item is a link to the page in Canvas that is always up to date.
Course Logistics
Explanation of how to find the work you need to do each week, how the daily discussion posts work, and how to keep up with the website.
Succeeding in an Online Course
Tips on what you can do to make sure you do your best work in this course. This menu item is a link to a permanent page with an infographic.
When Your Grades Are Based on Labor
Description of how you can benefit from the labor-based grading system in this course. This menu item is a link to a permanent page with an infographic.
Explanation of the course assessment system, and a complete outline of work necessary in the course, including details on how to earn a grade higher than a B.

Labor Log
Description of the weekly journal requirements for the course, which contribute to the final exam in the course.
Writing Groups
Information on the online writing groups that are part of the peer feedback system in the course.
Major Projects
Brief description of the five major projects that are required in the course, with links to additional information.
Final Exam
Step-by-step instructions on how to complete the final exam assignment for the course.
Course Help
Links to information on the site that can help you do well. This page includes links only.

Campus Resources
Outline of places on campus where you can get more help for the course (like the Writing Center).
Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing
List of ten common strategies that will help you do better in the course.
By Title
Links to all the daily posts on the site, listed in reverse chronological order (the most recent posts are at the top).
By Category
Links to the daily posts on the site, sorted by the categories they were published in (e.g., #TuesdayTutorial).
Links to all of the pages on the site, in alphabetical order.
Contact Info
Form for visitors to the site to use if they want to send me a message. Students should email me directly or send a message in Canvas.


#SundayShare: Grading System FAQ

#SundayShare: Grading System FAQ published on

Students have told me in their SPOT comments that the grading system I use can be confusing, so I want to dedicate some time to explaining more about it with these FAQs.

Why do you use a labor-based system?

Worker, wearing hard hat, at a computerI believe that a system that allows you to keep working until you get the results that fit the workplace is more humane than a system that punishes you if you aren’t perfect on the first try.

I know there are lots of situations in the workplace that require perfection. If you submit a bid to a client that has errors, for instance, you may not get a second chance—but that’s in the workplace. You are still in the classroom.

The labor-based system allows you the chance to learn and improve. You can make mistakes and try again. You can take risks, and if they don’t turn out, your grade will still be okay.

How does this system relate to the workplace?

Drawing of a building in the background, with a briefcase in the foregroundI have worked in quite a few places, and in none of them did I ever receive a letter grade for the work that I did. Never ever. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sure my writing was read by others I worked with. Sometimes it was good enough to go out to the intended reader right away. Other times it had to be revised first. Grades just weren’t part of the system.

In the workplace, you are assessed on how hard you work and what you accomplish. Managers expect you to show up, put in your best effort, and accomplish the goals your company sets. If you do nothing or the bare minimum, you will be reprimanded or fired.

Grades in this course are based on a similar system. You earn your grade based on your labor—on the time and intensity that you put into your writing and collaboration. You are not punished for making mistakes as long as you work to improve throughout the term.

What’s the research behind this system?

Research article with a magnifying glassI adapted this strategy from Asao Inoue’s work on contract grading, labor-based grading, and anti-racist assessment strategies.

You can find additional publications on anti-racist assessment and on grading students’ labor on Inoue’s page.

Why is this system better for students?

Bar graph showing upward trendThe most important benefits of this system are explained in the When Your Grades Are Based on Labor infographic. To summarize those benefits, a labor-based grading system allows you to

  1. Focus on Ideas (Not Mistakes).
  2. Write for Yourself (Not for Me).
  3. Take Risks (Don’t Play It Safe).
  4. Have Do-Overs (No Penalty).

This labor-based system allows you to continue working on your projects until your work reaches the level that would be acceptable in the workplace. Your grade is not effected by what you haven’t learned yet, and you are free to try out ideas as you like.

Why is there no partial credit?

Icon for a text file with binary code as the contentWork in this class is either ready to use in the workplace (and graded Complete) or it’s not ready (and graded Incomplete).

Think of it as a binary system. There can only be 1 or 0, Complete or Incomplete. There isn’t any middle ground, so there isn’t partial credit.

The thing to remember is that when a project is returned as Incomplete, you can always revise it until you do have a piece that is ready to use in the workplace. There is no punishment in the system if your work isn’t quite ready, but there’s no credit either.

How are labor logs part of this system?

Journal notebookYou document the time you spend on activities and the level of intensity you put into your work in your labor log. You can think of tracking your work in your log as a parallel to tracking billing codes for what you do in the workplace.

I have no way of knowing what you are working on or even how much you are working in an online class. In a face-to-face classroom, I would see you working in the classroom. I could tell if you were working intensely, working at an average pace, or not working at all. Since I cannot see your work myself, I need you to tell me what you’re doing.

Additionally, you will use your labor log to gather details about your work when you write your final exam. Keeping track of what you do in your log is easier than trying to remember the details of what you did at the end of the term.

Why is there so much emphasis on peer feedback in this system?

Rectangle, representing a piece of paper, with a speech bubble over it, representing comments on the paperIn the workplace, you will find yourself reading and commenting on the projects of your coworkers frequently. The peer feedback activities in our class give you the chance to learn more about that process. Writing in the workplace is as much about what you write as it is about how you help others with their writing.

Just as importantly, peer feedback helps you improve your own writing in two ways. First, and maybe most obvious, you get advice on your draft that you can use to revise your document. Second, by reading drafts written by your classmates you can see strategies that will help you improve your own work as well as notice errors that you can later check your own work for.

Naturally, you cannot copy other people’s work; however, you can see useful ideas that you can make your own. For instance, you might read a draft that does a great job with headings. When you return to your own draft, those headings will stick with you, and you can use their example as you revise your own draft.


Image credits: Icons are all from The Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license: Worker by Wilson Joseph, Workplace by Darri, Research by Tanuj Abraham, growth by Souvik Bhattacharjee, code by Creative Stall, journal by Vectors Market, and peer review by Cody Foss.


#SundayShare: Daily Discussion Post Statistics

#SundayShare: Daily Discussion Post Statistics published on 2 Comments on #SundayShare: Daily Discussion Post Statistics

Daily Discussion Post StatsSomeone in the class has asked about how frequently to respond to the Daily Discussion Posts. Her question inspired me to gather some statistics that will show you how students responded to the posts in the past.

General Advice

Think of responding to the discussion posts like participating in a course that meets in the classroom. Chime in when you have something to say, but don’t feel compelled to talk just for the sake of talking.

Counting Your Comments

You can see the number of comments you have made by finding any comment you have made on the blog and looking after your name, as shown in these examples:

Screenshot Showing the Location of Comment Count

Details on the Stats

The infographic on the right shows some stats on the comments from the Fall Semester to help you gauge what’s typical. The numbers are for four sections of the course, which works out to 88 students. These numbers are identical to the number of sections and students this term.

Out of the 88 students in the course, 61 of them commented at least once. That works out to about seven students out of every ten.

The highest number of comments by a student was 61. The average number of comments per student was 18. There were a total of 66 Daily Discussion Posts and a total of 1091 comments for the entire semester.

Those who posted more comments tended to do better in the course; but posting more is not a guarantee of an A. You have to meet all the Requirements in the course.


Note: This infographic contents is included in the text of the post, so it does not need a transcript.



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