September 23rd, 2013

Using Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Proactive Approach for Online Learning


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.

To reach higher efficiency and success, formative assessments such as Angelo and Cross’ (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to check for student understanding prior to the summative assessment within the online classroom. The following strategies have been found to be both simple and effective for both the instructor and student in online modalities.

1. Directed Paraphrasing (Angelo & Cross, 1993)
The ultimate goal for teachers is to provide students with lessons that allow for the highest level of mastery and application. Directed paraphrasing allows teachers to obtain a small snippet of what students have learned. This will also hone in upon summarization and paraphrasing skills by translating specialized information into text that is understood by the learner (Angelo & Cross, 1993). This strategy could be used by:

  • Identifying the desired objective to be communicated to students (e.g. Students will evaluate the importance of professional dispositions ideal for the field of teaching.)
  • Requesting that students write, to a specific audience, a paraphrased summary of what they have learned (e.g. In three to five sentences, directed to your fellow teachers, paraphrase the professional dispositions that are ideal for the field of teaching.) This question may be posed before instruction to assess prior knowledge or during instruction to assess the presented material.
  • Following student responses, the instructor will participate and provide both individual and group feedback to address any areas of confusion and/or misunderstanding by presenting additional discussion responses or comments.

2. Student-Generated Test Questions (Angelo & Cross, 1993)
Teachers can assess what information is best remembered and most important to students by engaging them in developing their own test questions. This can provide instructors with understanding what information students deem as useful, what questions would be considered fair, and how well they are able to address their own test questions. To use this strategy in the online classroom:

  • Identify the desired objective, assignment, or exam to be communicated to students (e.g. Students will evaluate contemporary issues in educational policy.)
  • Determine how many questions students will create. (Typically one to two questions will suffice.)
  • Prior to summative assessment (quiz, assignment, essay, or exam), ask students to develop questions to be posted within the discussion forum. (e.g. Following this week’s topic and discussion, create one to two questions regarding contemporary issues in educational policy. Please provide your answer to the question(s). A variation of this could ask that students provide answers to other students’ questions.)
  • Following student-posed questions, the instructor provides both individual and group feedback to the class to assist students in better test/summative assessment performance by presenting additional discussion responses or comments.

3. Double-Entry Journal (Angelo & Cross, 1993)
Application is one of the essential elements to student comprehension. In order to promote application of specific objectives, instructors can introduce the double-entry journal within the discussion forum. In this strategy, students read, analyze, and respond to assigned text through the use of a simple graphic organizer (Angelo & Cross, 1993). In using a T-chart, students will reserve one side for elements of the text that stood out to them, while the opposite side will be the explanation, analysis, and possible application of this portion of text. This can be conducted in an online classroom by:

  • Selecting a short, vital reading or section of text that is particularly challenging for students.
  • Presenting students with a T-chart template to do the following:
    • Left column – students list and copy three-to-five meaningful excerpts from the specified text.
    • Right column – students explain why each portion of the text was selected in addition to any reactions to their choices.
  • Following student completion, use this to promote discussion within the forums by providing feedback and guidance to students regarding their selections. This should be done in addition to a whole class summary.

The above practices include only a small sample of possibilities in regards to using online formative assessment. If used properly, the student feedback collected through the use of formative assessments such as CATs will allow instructors to check for understanding, guide instruction, and provide a proactive approach to student mastery. An important reminder for online educators is to maximize the use of discussion forums. The fast-paced nature of online education does not allow for time wasted; therefore, the addition of CATs within discussion forums can take a proactive approach to student learning and success.

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. San Francisco; Jossey-Bass.

Gaulden, S. (2010). Classroom assessment techniques. Essex County College. Retrieved from

Emily Bergquist and Rick Holbeck are currently working as ground and online instructors as well as managers of online full-time faculty at Grand Canyon University.

  • Education Revolution

    Sadly, none of these options actually require the students to do anything except regurgitate information. Regardless of the course delivery method, faculty need to begin creating authentic assessments for their courses. Not to sound overly cliche but get outside of your assessment boxes.

    • Emily Bergquist

      Hello there. In actuality, when using formative assessment, the goal does often include some regurgitation. As the instructor, we want to be able to see or hear that the students are grasping the concepts and are able to explain in their own words. This "spot check" or CAT is used to do just so. It is meant to be quick, effective and low maintenance. I would agree that there should be differentiation in assessment and delivery; however, there is certainly a place for assessment such as Classroom Assessment Techniques when one is looking for a quick check for understanding as a lesson is being taught.

      • Education Revolution

        The "spot check or CAT" simply determines whether or not a student can Google the information. My point was application of knowledge and skills. Googling or youtubing how to ride a bike is vastly different from actually riding the bike. You are simply allowing the students to say "you put your feet on the little platforms called pedals . . . " instead of assessing whether or not they can actually ride the bike in a safe manner.

  • Jean McK

    Depends what is meant by "explanation, analysis, and possible application". We have our students watch teaching videos and critique them using various approaches and learning theories. We have them analyse one of theur own teaching sessions by applying theory and critiquing the theories as to how much insight they can provide. Any assessment can be done in a way that is shallow or challenging – that is where the skill comes in!

  • Laura S

    if formative assessment is done in an open class discussion where students can see/hear each others' answers, how to assure that each student is sharing their OWN understanding (or misunderstanding) of the material rather than simply taking a cue from and paraphrasing their classmates' responses? Instead of open discussion, I have students using private journals for these sort of formative assessments (a check of understanding). I provide personalize feedback to each student one-on-one. My question here, though: if they misunderstand the material, should I correct them (give them the correct answer) or simply direct them to review specific material and redo the assessment activity? My feeling is that students will learn better if they figure it out from a second review of the material rather than just by having me hand them the answer "on a silver platter". Do others here agree or disagree with this approach and why? Basically: is the point of formative assessment to correct student mistakes or to point them in the proper direction so they can discover and correct their own mistakes? I prefer the second option. (Though, after two or three failed attempts I am more likely to just give them the answer, but not after the first failed attempt.)

    • Emily Bergquist

      Formative assessment can actually be used for both of your mentioned tasks. When we formatively assess, as the teacher, we can see where our students' strengths lie as well as their areas of need. In the case that they have misunderstood or need redirection, the formative assessment can assist the instructor in creating an action plan or lesson redirection. This might entail the student correcting their own mistakes! In addition, we also want to think about formative assessment such as Classroom Assessment Techniques as a way to assess the class as a whole. Did the majority of your class "get it" or do you need to have a re-teach of that topic? Great question.

  • Rodney Ruiz

    Formative and summative assessment in online teaching has its pros and cons. One lecturer at UWI St Augustine asked that students create journals and post to my eLearning after each face to face session. This is an ideal formative method to ensure that students understand the material that was taught. Summative assessment by the way of online teaching may not be the ideal way to assess a person’s performance because the work done may not be done by the student.

    • Laura S

      Summative assessment in an online class is best done in a proctored environment so as to avoid the issue you mention with students getting others to do the work for them. Our distance learning program requires at least 30-40% of the students' grade be proctored (typically an exam though not necessarily) in our college testing center, other prearranged proctor elsewhere, or using a service like ProctorU ( The proctor checks the student ID to verify that they are who they say they are. We also require that students be able to earn a passing grade on these proctored activities. Even if they pass other non-proctored assignments, if they fail the proctored ones, we are to fail them for the course (they are warned about this in the course syllabus)

  • Wayne Mohammed

    Hello Laura S,
    I agree with your strategy of using private journals and giving personal feedback individually for these types of formative assessments to ensure that understanding of materials taught online is achieved. I would also like to add that the use of double entry journal will also ensure comprehension. According to Angelo & Cross, (1993) in this strategy, students read, analyze and respond to text using graphic organizers.

  • Jeanette

    The distinction of the roles of formative and summative assessments is valuable. The authenticity of students responses would determine the effectiveness of the assessment, may it be for improving delivery, monitoring learning needs as with formative assessment; or the inquiry of students’ mastery as with summative assessment. However, if this is of major concern, especially with regards to summative assessment then an oral online activity may be one solution, via audio or video conferencing.

  • Kerry C

    I use CATs in my seated class nearly every day as a method of merely getting students to reflect on what has just occurred in their learning experience. I am very interested in the idea of having students use the double-entry journal; however, I'm curious of how one could make that happen in an online class. Is there a widget we could use or a particular form that students could use so that the information is easily filled-out by one student and then read by others? What methods have you seen used?

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