assessing online learning
Tests and quizzes are often the primary means of assessing online learner performance; however, as Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, online instructors and coauthors of numerous online learning books, including Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching (2013), point out, there are more effective and less problematic alternatives.
10 Assessment Design Tips for Increasing Online Student Retention, Satisfaction and Learning, part 2
In the part one of this article, we started our exploration of assessment ideas for your online courses. We explored the value of designing ample opportunities for formative feedback. We examined the value of authentic assessments and the dangers of using assessment as a punishment. We also reflected upon alternatives or enhancements to the traditional letter grade system, as well as designing with the realization that most learners approach our courses as a buffet rather than a pre-served meal, and the implications for our assessment plans.
How much time do we put into the design of the assessment plans in our online courses? Is most of that time focused upon summative graded assignments that factor into the course grade? Or, do they also include opportunity for practice and informal feedback?
Not all online courses are created from scratch. Many—if not most—are online versions of courses that have previously been taught face-to-face. In these cases, where an instructor or instructional designer is adapting an existing face-to-face course for online delivery, assessments already exist.
When looking to improve your online course, you may be tempted to do a complete redesign—start over and change nearly everything. Before you do that, consider an incremental approach that uses action research to continuously improve your course. This will enable you to make progress without discarding effective course elements or taking on the inordinate amount of work involved in a redesign.
There are two main forms of assessment often used within the online classroom. Both formative and summative assessments evaluate student learning and assist instructors in guiding instructional planning and delivery. While the purpose of a summative assessment is to check for mastery following the instruction, formative assessment focuses on informing teachers in ways to improve student learning during lesson delivery (Gualden, 2010). Each type of assessment has a specific place and role within education, both traditional and online.
On Tuesday, I provided general suggestions on course-based grading expectations practices. Here I share some ideas for grading specific assignments.
Use a bank of comments that are precise, detailed, and clear. The smart online educator is the one who has a bank of comments from which he/she can draw on to give students feedback on any number of items in the course. But there are two important items here that will make these precast comments most effective: 1) Have comments point out not only when something is wrong but also why it is wrong and how to get it right. In this manner, each comment becomes a mini teacher’s aide in the assignment. 2) Adjust (personalize) any comment as is necessary when your comment as written does not exactly match the problem you see in the student’s assignment. This way each comment is a perfect fit for the error, allowing the student to learn more fully.
Students know that in any online course assignments will be required, and students expect the online educator to read the assignments and give feedback that can help them improve their understanding of the subject and improve grades on future assignments in the course. All instructors give feedback—but there is an approach to grading assignments that is merely okay, and another that involves grading mini lessons in the subject matter while also motivating the students to do better. It is this latter approach that must be practiced so that the student can do the maximum learning in the online environment.
Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: the three fundamental components of education, whether online or face to face. Author Milton Chen calls these the “three legs of the classroom stool” and reminds us that each leg must be equally strong in order for the “stool” to function properly, balanced and supportive. Habitually, the questions What am I going to teach and How am I going to teach it? weigh heavier on an instructor’s mind than How will I assess? As a result, the assessment “leg” of the classroom stool is often the weakest of the three, the least understood and least effectively implemented.
End-of-course evaluations, conducted properly, can serve as valuable tools for improving online programs, but they’re not without their drawbacks.
“One of the problems is current students benefit little from the end-of-course surveys,” said Phil Ice, EdD, associate vice president of research and development at American Public University System. “Whenever you’re measuring what the student thinks of the course or their perceived learning, instructor performance, the way assets are utilized, you’re capturing that information retrospectively. So you’re not really helping the students who are engaged right now.”