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Writing and discussion-based course (Humanities, Social Sciences)

Many Humanities and Social Sciences courses help students develop higher level critical thinking skills through direct engagement with research literature and primary sources. Students must develop arguments through observations and engaging in dialogue with fellows students, their faculty member, and, often, with outside experts.

These courses are smaller, seminar-style classes consisting of faculty lecture, discussions, and often presentations or group work by students exploring a case study, a current issue, or developing a final project that synthesizes what they have learned through reading and research. The class may individually or in groups produce original research material, such as interviews, audio recordings and the like. Grades are based on writing assignments, in-class presentations, and a final paper or multimedia-based project. The course relies on readings from literature or research articles, books, and original research materials from the faculty member and/or students.

1. Post course requirements and expectations

The Syllabus tool allows you to upload an existing document or point to a URL if you want students to see the basics of your course. You can also build a dynamic syllabus with links to texts and assignments external or internal to Sakai in the Lessons tool.

2. Share course documents such as readings or research materials

Use the Resources tool to organize and store important documents. You can post existing documents (PDF, Word, Excel), point to a URL, or create documents within Sakai. You can also post multiple documents at one time. Think about the best way to group the information. For example, does it make sense to create folders by topic and put all relevant documents into that folder? Or should you organize by document type? You can set the release time of documents, so that students are presented material at points in the course when it will be used in their work.


You may want to store documents on My Workspace to link to multiple section courses to maintain consistency.

3. Create and grade papers or projects

The Assignments tool is the best way to organize submissions of papers or other student work. You can set opening and closing times for assignment submissions and include a window where assignments can be submitted after the deadline. After the students have submitted their work, you can download documents individually or as a group, provide feedback on content and add grades to the course Gradebook.

Tests can be a way to get quick feedback from students before or after a class session or to create a low-stakes “five minute paper” or quiz to evaluate student progress in the course or their understanding of basic concepts. The tests and quizzes tool offers the same grading and time parameters as assignments. The tool can be used for a variety of question and answer types, such as multiple-choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, or short essay.


If you want to give students feedback on drafts or other ungraded material or if you do not wish to keep your grades in Sakai, the Drop Box tool provides an easy way to organize and privately share documents with individual students.

4. Manage multiple sections and groups

The Site Info tool allows you to set permissions for participants. You can also create subgroups in a course for group projects or to assign different homework assignments to groups. Once groups are defined, you can deploy many tools to just a specific group. For example, set up a Resources folder for the group to share files with each other as they work on a project, plus create a Gradebook item or Assignment for grading their group project.


Use Section Info to assign TAs to different lab or discussion sections.

 5. Link to important websites to your course

You can add a menu bar link to URLs that are vital to your course with Web Content.

6. Communicate due dates and important information

Use Announcements to inform students about important news or to remind them of upcoming events. Add due dates to the Calendar. These will appear on your course site and the student’s My Workspace calendar.


7. Encourage student communication

A Forum can be set up for discussions and short writing assignments to use as a basis for in-class discussion or drafts of writing projects for peer review. Postings to the Forums tool can include attachments, such as Word or PowerPoint files.


Instructors can hold real-time sessions with the Chat tool. Some faculty use online chat as a supplement or adjunct to office hours for quick questions from students in their courses.


  • Create a quick Poll to get feedback from students after a lecture or discussion session, or use the Tests tool for a more detailed assessment.
  • As an alternative to the Forums, you may wish to use Piazza, a non-Duke tool that has been integrated into Sakai, that provides a more advanced type of discussion area in your course.  See the Piazza website for information about the tool and the Duke Sakai support site for instructions on setting up Piazza in your course.

8. Get ongoing updates on student work

One option is to turn on Add Student Content in the Lessons tool; this will allow students to create their own multimedia webpages and allow for advanced features such as peer review or anonymous posts. Or use Blogs to have students post drafts of papers or observations about their research and readings throughout the semester. The blog tool organizes student posts in chronological order, making the most recent posts easily available.

lessons student content


A more advanced blogging platform that can be used for publicly posting student writing and engaging guests from outside Duke is available through the university’s WordPress MU system. You can integrate a Duke WordPress ( blog into your Sakai course by creating a Web Content link to the blog.

9. Configure a space for collaborative student writing

The Wiki tool in Sakai lets you create a collaborative work space where students can jointly author documents arranged as a website within your Sakai course site. The tool allows you to see revisions made to the site or control authoring access to subpages on the site for work by groups in your course.


Duke also offers DukeWiki, a stand-alone wiki tool that offers more advanced editing features. You can integrate a DukeWiki site into your Sakai course site by adding a link to it with the Web Content tool.