Over time I have defined and refined an “expert reading” response criteria that I hand out to my graduate students at the beginning of the term. Perhaps aspects of this 8-step criteria will be of use to you? Check it out:

I. Introduction: There are 6 “Expert Readings” (ER’s) across this 10-week summer term. Of these 6 ER’s you can opt out of one without penalty. By the end of the term, you must have completed 5 out of 6 of the assigned ER’s. At 32 points each, these 5 required ER’s account for 160 points across the term.

I have a list of 8 specific criteria for completing a graduate level “Expert Reading”. Spend time familiarizing yourself with these criteria. The way I prompt you to successfully complete an ER is precisely how I will grade what you produce and turn in. And, by assigning/using the same criteria for many weeks, this should reduce surprises.

You should, steadily, become more efficient in producing these (2 page, 12 point font, double-spaced) reports as the term progresses. But, the broader purpose of an ER is to make you read the materials assigned closely and analytically. The goal is not to have you write about all aspects of each week’s readings, but to figure out what you want to focus on, why, and then conduct a focused analysis (that incorporates your experience/perspective and follow up research) on one, or two key ideas. Sometimes these are “open” ER’s. Other times, I offer prompts with some specific directions to take.

II. Grading Key:

  • “√” indicates that the expectation was met (with possible notes about under specific section).
  • “ø” indicates a point deduction, that there was room for improvement, and to see individualized feedback notes under the specific section.

III. Expert Reading Criteria:

  1. Formally Incorporate Multiple Sources (4 points): Demonstrate your reading of the relevant materials by formally incorporating aspects of them (through summary, or quotation) into your analytical narrative. When doing so, make sure to follow up with the ideas that you include from others and explain, in your own words, what they mean. Use APA format –see Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister’s online style guide: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/RES5e_ch06_o.html.
  1. In Your Analysis, Signal and Coordinate Between Multiple Perspectives (4 points):Analysis requires that you are able to pull in and work from and against multiple points of view. At key moments in your analysis, particularly when explaining your key points, make sure to coordinate your analysis between multiple sources and perspectives (including your own opinion). With this in mind, be sure to construct sentences that signal your emphasis and the hierarchy between ideas through the use of coordinating (and, but, for, yet, or, nor, so), subordinating (if only, unless, whenever, rather than, as though, as long as, etc.), or correlating conjunctions (both … and, not only … but, either … or, etc.). Or that particularly employ conjunctive adverbs like –however, moreover, nevertheless, consequently, as a result, etc. Consider the difference between:

A. I think “y”.
B. If Bazerman (1998) is correct when he indicated that “x,” then it is difficult to believe Myers (2003) when he noted, “y”. Overall, it is likely the case that “z” because …


It is not that you cannot and should not include simple and direct statements like, “I think that …,” but make sure you strengthen your key points by recognizing multiple points of view and multiple arguments when possible.


  1. Include Supplemental Research (4 points):Show the initiative to supplement what you have been assigned to read with some kind of additional research. Do additional research and incorporate it into your analysis and overall reflections.
  1. Include Your Voice (4 points): Make connections between the readings and arguments to your own professional and personal experiences.
  2. Work to Be Interesting, Even Surprising (4 points): Try to write about that which is not immediately obvious (to anyone that has already read the article). A key first step is to avoid excess summary. Include summary as background information, but make sure that information leads to a bigger point and serves to set up your own perspectives, interpretations, and arguments. Take control of the material and tell us something that we might not expect, or know (stated as the opposite, a poor analytical post only restates what an article clearly establishes). Explain why and how the points you want to make are worth our time and attention.
  3. Revise Your Final Posts So They Are Focused (4 points): Follow through with the most important ideas you raise (do more with less). In other words, make sure to follow through and up on key concepts addressed. Focus on one, or two topics in your short, analytical narratives (or stated in the negative form, do not change topics abruptly and repeatedly between each paragraph). This often requires that you write your analysis in time so that you can revisit it and revise your work for overall coherence (often eliminating ideas that were not as important, or unrelated to your primary emphasis).
  4. Focus on Presentation and Overall Document Design (4 points):Pay attention to document design and use headers/sub-headers, or some other method to signal the order and progression of content in your post. Make sure to include a descriptive title.
  5. Edit (4 points):Edit your post to avoid excess spelling errors, or poor syntax.

Interact with Classmates’ and Their Work Each Week: Make sure you read and respond at least 3 classmates’ work across each unit. Include more than a simple comment. As indicated in the syllabus, this is required each week. And it is -2 off of the overall point total for each missing feedback post.

Total 32 points:          29 =’s approximately 90%;
26 =’s approximately 80%;
23 =’s approximately 70%;
20 =’s approximately 60%.

How to Acknowledge the Online in an Online Course Syllabus

When I teach online courses, I have come to value the benefits of including a relatively short, but direct statement in my course syllabi about the nature of online learning for my graduate and undergraduate students. Before enrolling, some (most?) students have considered the differences between face-to-face learning and online courses, but it is also the case that many have not. In many cases, students may be taking an online course for the first time. In other cases, even students that have taken online courses before may never have been directly prompted to consider the differences between online and face-to-face courses (let alone hybrid ones) before. In all cases, it is beneficial to remind everyone involved that the nature of a given learning environment (whether synchronous, or asynchronous) plays a primarily role in the processes of learning.

Over the last several years, I have been working on developing a statement that is simultaneously useful, but also general enough to include (without much revision necessary) in all of the online writing courses that I teach. Over time, I have moved this statement steadily up in the hierarchy of my syllabi so that now it generally sits in the first few sections. I now consider it as a key part of the introduction to the online courses that I teach and thus tend to place it immediately after my course description and course goals.

Of course there are many variables involved in drafting such statements such as the student population that you are teaching, the type of course management system involved (in my case BBlearn with some supplemental outlets), teaching styles, and the nature of distinct courses, etc. But, as of this particular blog post, here is what I have constructed and refined over time. Maybe it will be of us to you, or just as likely, you will have something similar in your own syllabi.

The relative success that I have had with versions of this particular statement stem from several characteristics:

  • It is written, ultimately, as an invitation to students prompting them not just to consider the nature of an online learning environment, but also how they must be active participants for success across the course.
  • It addresses aspects about not just being a student in an online learning environment, but also introduces the nature of my role as a professor across it.
  • The statement is short enough to include in a syllabus.
  • And the statement is general enough to include, without much revision, in any given online course that I teach.



III. About Online Learning in This Course: 

This is an online course. I have come to appreciate the value of opening online courses with a simple and direct reminder: this is an online course. The differences between face-to-face and online courses are significant. Put simply, face-to-face courses and online courses ARE NOT THE SAME and they cannot be. It is not a matter of one learning environment being better than another (opinion is often divided depending on individual student’s circumstances, learning styles, and preferences), but it is a matter of being aware and intentionally adjusting, as a student, to the learning environment (in this case online) that you have chosen. As you will have experienced, or might expect, the convenience of working through technology and from a distant location has significant benefits and real trade-offs. Interestingly, what is a trade-off and what is a benefit in an online learning environment varies sometimes significantly between students’ preferences and learning styles.

The most important thing to realize, if you haven’t already, is that “meaningful” online learning environments often require MORE time and effort for both students/teachers than face-to-face classes. It is a common misconception that online courses somehow save time and are more efficient. But consider how the online “environment” only exists in as much as you interact with it. Or, put another way, in a face-to-face class, the classroom “happens” when you attend a given class; however, in an online course, it is your responsibility (as with your classmates) to “make things happen” one person at a time, one login at a time, one response at a time. This is the primary distinction whereby a face-to-face course is synchronous (occurring at the same time) and an online course is asynchronous (not occurring at the same time). Let me say it in another way. In a face-to-face class, discussion, lectures, etc. happen collectively and naturally because, in such a learning environment, everyone is present together for all such interactions. In an online course, however, everything is experienced with a delay. This is a constant battle for everyone in all online courses –teachers and students alike. There is a “shared space” online, but no matter how an online course is structured, it requires everyone as individuals from different locations (in both place and time) to create and leave something meaningful for others to find later. It can feel like lonely work sometimes, but with some patience it won’t feel like work done alone.

This corresponds directly to the second most important thing to realize (if you haven’t already) about working on a course from a distinct location –it requires you to be a more independent and self-motivated learner than when attending a face-to-face class. For some of you, this may fit with your natural proclivity. For most of you, however, you will have to work at it. In this course, you cannot be a passive learner and I will not simply be feeding you information (as you might have experienced in the past). In order for this course to work you will need to interact and to be a “knowledge-generator”. You will need to be responsible for constructing and managing your own learning. You will be both teacher and student. The success of this course (and ultimately your valuation of it) depends upon the work you are willing to put in –not just for yourself, but with and for your classmates too. This is why reading and responding to (at least 3) classmates’ work is required each week. Given this requirement others, of course, will likewise be responding to your work. In this manner it is important to understand that interacting and discussing, etc. is as much part of completing every assignment as a specific assignment itself.

My job, as your professor, is to provide a structured series of assignments/prompts with supporting mini-lectures, content, and materials that facilitate the realization of the course goals. In this capacity, my primary role is as an expert facilitator. But keep in mind that any given assignment and content won’t take on meaning, or “come to life” until you interact with it. More so, the electronic environment does not expand, nor become more interesting and rich until you add your reflections, comments, thinking, responses, ideas, beliefs, arguments, etc. The success of this course relies upon your steady, consistent, and active involvement. The success of your own learning across it does, of course, too.