In their article on the effect of instructor participation in online discussion boards, Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison (2003) asked if, “online instructors [should] be encouraged to take a prominent ‘sage on the stage’ role, a more constructivist ‘guide on the side’ role, or an ultra-low profile as ‘the ghost in the wings’” when they are facilitating asynchronous discussion boards. Fifteen years later, we are still debating this same question.
Online Assessment, Grading, and Feedback
As online education continues to grow, so does the potential for academic dishonesty. So how do you ensure your online students are not cheating on their tests? Bottom line, you don’t. But there are ways to stack the deck in your favor.
The good news is it’s not as bad as you think. A 2002 study by Grijalva, Kerkvliet, and Nowell it found that “academic dishonesty in a single online class is no more prevalent than in traditional classrooms” (Paullet, Chawdhry, Douglas & Pinchot, 2016, pg. 46). Although the offenders have become quite creative in their endeavors, the prevention remains the best defense.
While most faculty stick with the tried-and-true quiz and paper assessment strategies for their online courses, the wide range of technologies available today offers a variety of assessment options beyond the traditional forms. But what do students think of these different forms?
Scott Bailey, Stacy Hendricks, and Stephanie Applewhite of Stephen F. Austin State University experimented with different assessment strategies in two online courses in educational leadership, and surveyed students afterward on their impressions of each one. The students were asked to score the strategies using three criteria: 1) enjoyment, 2) engagement with the material, and 3) transferability of knowledge gained to practice. The resulting votes allowed investigators to rank the various strategies from least to most preferred by students.
“Online classes are often intimidating for first-time students,” writes David St Clair. “They wrestle with the gnawing fear that their class has no anchor in the physical world and that there will be no one there to address their fears and concerns.” (p. 129) His solution? A simple, online check-in quiz.
Here’s how the activity unfolds. The first assignment in the online course, to be completed on the first day, is this required check-in quiz. In St Clair’s case, it meets the university’s first-day attendance requirement. Students can be dropped from the course if they don’t meet that university requirement. They read the syllabus and take the quiz, which comes to them as an attachment in the course welcome email. The quiz is also posted on the course Blackboard site. Beyond fulfilling the check-in requirement, this quiz is actually a tour of course features. “To find the quiz, learn about the quiz, take the quiz, and to receive their grade on the quiz, students need to navigate through virtually every part of the online class site.” (p. 130) As St Clair points out, you could “tell” students how to navigate the features of the online course, but the more powerful way is having them discover those features for themselves.
Classroom Assessment Techniques, or CATs, are simple ways to evaluate students’ understanding of key concepts before they get to the weekly, unit, or other summative-type assessment (Angelo & Cross, 1993). CATs were first made popular in the face-to-face teaching environment by Angelo and Cross as a way to allow teachers to better understand what their students were learning and how improvements might be made in real time during the course of instruction. But the same principle can apply to online teaching as well.
Many instructors feel that they need to be experts in mathematics in order to understand analytics. But according to John Vivolo, director of online and virtual learning for New York University, every faculty member can learn to use the course analytics available through their LMS to improve student learning.
A lot of faculty worry that they do. Given the cheating epidemic in college courses, why wouldn’t students be even more inclined to cheat in an unmonitored exam situation? Add to that how tech-savvy most college students are. Many know their way around computers and software better than their professors. Several studies report that the belief that students cheat more on online tests is most strongly held by faculty who’ve never taught an online course. Those who have taught online are less likely to report discernible differences in cheating between online and face-to-face courses. But those are faculty perceptions, not hard, empirical evidence.
In their 1995 Change magazine article, “From Teaching to Learning—a New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Robert B. Barr and John Tagg described the Learning Paradigm, which emphasizes learning over teaching and student discovery and construction of knowledge over transfer of knowledge from instructor to student.
Online instructors focus most of their teaching on curricular issues—what they will teach, how they will teach it, etc. But studies have found that differences in curriculum have little, if any, effect on student outcomes. John Hattie compared more than 100 factors related to student achievement from more than 180,000 studies and ranked the factors from most significant to least significant. Remarkably, “Programmed Instruction” came out at the bottom. While faculty toil over getting that perfect lecture, the variation in learning outcomes from different lectures is negligible.
The discussion forum is an essential part of online courses. It’s where students interact, reflect, exchange ideas, and expand their knowledge base. The quality of the discussion forum depends on the ability to develop a sense of community, the clarity of the discussion questions, and the use of a grading rubric that includes standards of performance.