What to Consider When Planning Assessments in Online Courses

computer quiz
Online Learning
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In many respects, teaching online bears many similarities to a traditional on-campus course. You need to deliver your course content, create assignments that build student learning, and design assessments that measure student learning. However, there are several factors that require you to approach your plans from a different angle. One such factor—how to assess learning—may weigh particularly heavy on your mind, because the ability to accurately assess student learning, while maintaining standards of academic integrity, is such a crucial part of your role as an instructor.

Below, we provide some answers to three questions instructors commonly ask about online learning.

How and when will I assess learning in my online course?

Many of your students may be in your online course because of the “anytime, anywhere” flexibility that online learning affords them. According to Senior Professional Educator, Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins, assessment can (and should) take place throughout the course, not just at “test time.” This does require you to think a bit differently about the way you assess learning.

To begin, consider your course’s learning objectives, and consider what types of activities might best help you measure students’ learning of the skills and concepts you’re teaching. For example, you could assign videos or recorded presentations to assess students’ speech skills; or, you could use online discussion questions to check students’ knowledge and understanding of assigned reading or viewing materials.

Formative assessments, such as online quizzes, can help you and your students keep track of their progress throughout the course. They also offer students the added benefit of reinforcing what they’ve learned.

Interested in including a more traditional summative assessment in your course? Your LMS likely offers tools that allow you to schedule tests, which can help ensure that students complete those tests on a certain date, by a certain time, or within a particular window of time.

How will I ensure academic integrity in my online course?

Online tests make some instructors nervous because they can’t see the way students are behaving (as you would in a face-to-face class). If you intend to include an examination with objective questions as part of the course work, note that most learning management systems can randomize a bank of questions for each student, thereby inhibiting would-be cheaters’ success in passing along questions (and answers) to their classmates.

You could also address the potential for cheating by assigning project-based assessments that require students to update you on their progress on a regular basis. For example: if you’re assessing learning through a research project, you could ask students to submit their thesis statements, bibliographies, outlines, and first drafts at various milestones.

But you might still ask: “What about the fact that students can look up answers as they work?” Though it’s true that students will have resources (such as their texts and the internet) at hand, you can measure the quality of students’ learning by including questions that require them to demonstrate their higher-order thinking skills (such as analysis, evaluation, and application). In addition to making it more challenging to simply look up an answer, these types of questions have the benefit of helping students increase the depth of their understanding of course material.

How can I provide feedback in my online course?

If you see students “in person” in an on-campus class, it’s relatively easy to have a conversation with a student who needs feedback on his or her progress in your course. Additionally, you can hand-write notes on the work they’ve submitted to you.

Though you may initially miss this face-to-face contact you have in an on-campus course, do know that it’s still possible to provide effective, meaningful, and timely feedback to your online students. Read the following options, and think about what might work for you:

  • If you’re administering an objective test, check your LMS to see if it allows you to include rejoinders that help students understand why an answer is correct or incorrect.
  • If students submit a paper, you could use the “Track Changes” functionality in your word-processing program to add comments and notes. You could also use an interactive rubric.
  • If you assess learning via discussion board questions, be sure to respond to (some, if not all of) their comments and look for “teachable moments” as you read.
  • If you have general feedback that applies to the whole class, you might consider providing some of that feedback in a recording or discussion board post, or you could share your observations during your lecture.