I teach an upper-level college course in cell & molecular biology at a state four-year university. I have a small class every semester, only about 20 students. I made it a graded exercise this semester ( about 10% of final grade ) to create a SE account, send me their username and participate in Stack Exchange Bio. Otherwise gave them no other guidelines leaving it open ended.

I was wondering peoples opinion on this?

As I made it mandatory does this go against any guidelines of this forum?

Anyone done this before me & have any suggestions?

Had a lot of trouble finding tags for this question FYI


2 Answers 2


In general it is a bad idea to force people to participate. If posting here is simply a checkbox they have to tick off to get their grade, there is no reason to participate in any useful way. We want people to participate because they find the site useful, or because they enjoy answering questions here.

We don't have an official policy on this yet, as it simply hasn't happened until now.

To judge how well this worked I'd recommend that you check the number of posts of your students and note their score and whether they were closed or not. If your students are posting high-quality content, everything is fine. If many of their posts are downvoted or closed, this probably hurt the site and discouraged your students.

I also think that sending people to an SE site without explaining the most important aspects first is likely to lead to some trouble. The Q&A system is far more rigid than the forums many users are accustomed to. This can lead to quite a culture shock for users when their posts are suddenly edited, and their questions closed because they don't understand the rules.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is really EXCELLENT feedback, thank you. And yes if it's not working out I won't repeat. Most of the students are grad students and it's a small group (~16) which should help this work. $\endgroup$
    – rhill45
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:45

I'd personally disagree with using general Bio.SE participation as an examinable course component because grades are treated as reflections of academic or scientific skill/knowledge - and participation here is too unspecific for forming such a grade. Some forms of participation might be suitable, e.g.:

  • You can't translate reputation or contribution scores into a grade because they depend on too many factors unrelated to quality of contribution (sadly).
  • You can't grade based on number of contributions because then you're either simply rewarding students liking it here and participating lots, or encouraging workaholism rather than learning to keep a decent work/leisure balance.
  • You can't grade based on your subjective perception of their quality of contribution and amount of participation because that will be excessively time-counsuming for you and prone to the problems mentioned in point number 2.
  • You could have them pick a Q and write an essay-quality, referenced answer, then grade the resulting answers as a piece of coursework. That might work while additionally producing high-quality content. However, you might need to require the chosen Q to be unanswered so as to avoid informal plagiarism, especially of each other - and that creates the risk of there simply not being any good questions available to answer.
  • You could pick a list of questions yourself and let your students express preference, then assign the questions making sure that no two students answer the same ones. This is barely different from a normal examinable essay and would probably work fine. To actually help out Bio.SE, students could then post their answers to the questions after the deadline.

Though I'm surprised you're even allowed to do this as it would mean your institution doesn't require a hand-in of all examinable material for internal review and legal purposes (especially because institutions at least here usually claim intellectual property to students' work).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's some really good points here. Few things to note though- it's for their participation grade, it's a laboratory course, grade will be effort based, this component is only meant to get them to try SE out. Also it's upper level and grad students. Thanks for the feedback here @Armatus $\endgroup$
    – rhill45
    Sep 29, 2014 at 20:25

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