How do I assess student learning online?

Online Assessment

Assessing student learning is an essential component of effective teaching and learning in the online environment. The following resource will provide you with information on how to effectively use online assessments.

Assessment Tools in OWL

The OWL assessment tools allow for both formative and summative assessment of student learning. Formative assessment tracks student understanding and areas of weakness during the learning process and allows for the instructor to adjust teaching accordingly. Summative assessments are a test of learning, typically conducted at the end of the learning process (i.e. midterm or final exam).

Check out the Assessments page in Western’s eLearning Toolkit for an evaluation of the different assessment tools that can be incorporated into your OWL course.

Authentically Assessing Student Learning Online

It is important to create authentic assessment activities in the online environment. As always, it is critical for your courses to start with a set of clearly defined learning outcomes (See this article for help with writing learning outcomes). Assessments can promote active learning and build a sense of community among students and faculty, if designed appropriately.

The following are examples of assessments that have been shown to be effective in the online learning environment, along with links to tools in Western’s eLearning Toolkit that can help facilitate student learning.

  1. Written Assignments: short essays, research papers, case study responses.

    • Students submit written work electronically.
    • Can assign students to small groups to provide peer feedback and build community.
    • Assignments Tool
    • Turnitin
  1. Online Discussion: Asynchronous discussion activities (i.e. discussion board, blog or wiki).

    • Instructor can initiate class discussions with set of questions.
    • Opportunity for community building through student moderation.
    • Discussions
    • Forums Tool
    • Wiki Tool
  1. Concept Maps:

    • Provide visual representation of connections between concepts students have learned. Labeled links show relationships between concepts.
    • Good tool for formative assessment to evaluate student’s knowledge at certain checkpoints in the course.
    • Brainstorming/Mindmapping
    • Coggle
    • Lucidchart
  1. Presentations:

    Student presentations can be modified to the online learning environment

    • Students create presentations (i.e. slide deck or poster) to present to instructor and classmates online and receive instructor and peer feedback.
    • Synchronous web-conferencing tools can be used to facilitate these presentations or they can be recorded and presented asynchronously.
    • Blackboard Collaborate
  1. Test/quiz/exam:

    Traditional multiple choice, short or long answer questions can be delivered via OWL.

    • Unproctored tests can be taken using OWL. These are generally low stakes, formative assessments to test student understanding of course material.
    • Face-to-face proctored tests can also be incorporated for higher stakes exams.
    • Tests and Quizzes

Tips for Evaluating Student Learning Online

  • If assignments are complex and multi-part, it is more effective to break these down into smaller components such that the instructor can assess students at several points in the learning process and provide feedback.
  • Provide students with explicit and detailed rubrics to accurately communicate expectations for student performance.
  • If course material is highly technical, consider using ungraded, self-check quizzes as a formative assessment to check student learning and determine whether teaching strategies should be altered.
  • Use synchronous technologies when appropriate (i.e. Blackboard Collaborate) to communicate with students in real time. As online students have very different schedules, it is suggested that synchronous meetings be recorded such that students that cannot attend live can watch at a later time.
  • Self and peer assessments can be used to reduce instructor workload, improve student learning experiences and build community.
  • Look for opportunities to provide feedback to the entire class – i.e. an announcement or e-mail summarizing patterns observed in student assignments.
  • Q & A discussion boards can also be useful to field common student questions.
  • Using a variety of assessment techniques in an online course is recommended.

Resources and References

Transforming Assessment Series

This research group was group created to discuss how assessment tasks can be set and graded in the online classroom. The webinar series are both live and recorded sessions which show examples of new and upcoming e-assessments as well as a discussion of theories and practices related to assessment in online learning.

Pallof and Prat: Assessing the online Learner

Kearns LR: Student Assessment in Online Learning: Challenges and Effective Practices

Faculty Focus: Assessing Online Learning: Strategies, Challenges and Opportunities

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