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.
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.
At first glance, evaluating students online may seem more difficult and time-consuming. Closer examination, however, reveals an exciting array of assessment possibilities that can actually improve learning while reducing faculty workloads.
In the 2009 report, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, the Department of Education reported that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
When I first began teaching online, I believed that anytime students wrote anything, they should be held accountable for both spelling and grammar and my discussion rubric reflected that. As a result, I got very brief, very stiff, very formal discussion posts in which students were clearly speaking to me rather than to each other.
I started using an online grade book as a convenience for myself. Here, finally, was a grade book that couldn’t get lost or stolen, and it would be automatically backed up by the IT department every night. The accumulated scores could also be downloaded directly into a spreadsheet for calculation of grades, a shortcut that reduced the possibility of errors.
There are two common assumptions about teaching online that can sink even the most well-meaning neophyte. One is that “teaching is teaching” regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online and there’s no reason to deviate from the proven principles that work so well in the traditional classroom. The second assumption is that teaching online is all about the technology, and if you design your course properly, it pretty much runs itself.
Even the most experienced educators can feel overwhelmed when they teach their first hybrid or fully online course. On top of dealing with the time and space constraints of asynchronous learning, there are so many different tools to learn. Tools, it seems, that all of their students either know how to use or master very quickly.
If you want insight into how to assess online learning at the course, program, and institutional levels, you’ll want to download this new special report that will help you create more effective online assessment exercises and strategies.