Assessing Online Learning

At a recent meeting of our distance learning committee the question was raised whether our online courses should be delivered 100% asynchronously  – that is, without any face-to-face or synchronous requirements. The flexibility and convenience that attracts students to the online course is somewhat diminished when there are synchronous requirements, the most common example being the proctored exam.

Documenting Learning. Electronic Portfolios, CC-BY-NC-SA by Giulia Forsythe

CC-BY-NC-SA by Giulia Forsythe

One of the concerns and rationales for maintaining the proctored exam in an online course is the perception that we can prevent cheating, and that cheating is more prevalent (or at least easier) in the online environment. Therefore we need to bring the students to campus (or the learning center) for their exams. Although I’m not aware of any evidence that shows cheating is more prevalent online than for testing in the classroom, there are various methods employed to prevent cheating, including making the tests more challenging by using larger question banks, randomization, shortening the time frame… even using special browsers or webcams to ensure the individual taking the test is actually the student enrolled in the class.

My position is if its an online quiz – its an open-book quiz. Rather than struggling to make traditional models fit into the ever-changing virtual classroom, we might better expend our energies looking at other ways of assessing learning.

What if rather than using the quiz for evaluation, we make the goal that of learning and mastery? The advantages of the LMS quiz tool include instant grading and feedback. Timely feedback promotes learner engagement. For this reason, it can be the ideal tool for students to assess their own understanding, perhaps making it an even better tool for formative assessment than strictly for evaluative purposes.

Textbook publisher question banks can be used to quickly create online self-tests for students. By configuring the quiz to permit students multiple attempts and randomizing the questions from larger sets, the quiz can be sufficiently challenging while allowing the student to assess their own understanding of the content. By providing instant feedback learners can identify those concepts they are struggling with and focus on these areas as they review the material. Self-tests may be weighting at only 10 or 20% of their overall grade – just enough incentive to encourage completion of the assignments.

Using alternative forms of assessment which result in collections of artifacts: research paper, presentations, discussion or blog posts, visual media, group projects, etc. can offer increased opportunities for critical thinking and active learning. Students can even participate in the process of developing rubrics used to evaluate their own work. There are advantages to engaging students in this process. The discussion of what constitutes authority and/or quality of resources and how to recognize it, challenges students to participate in more meaningful discussions.

E-portfolios permit students to represent their own understanding and to capture this iterative learning process. By starting out early-on in the course and archiving the examples of student work over the semester, instructors can collect evidence of student learning . In the above artwork, Giulia Forsythe generously shares her “doodle” via Creative Commons licensed media on Flickr. The work represents her own perspective on the use of e-portfolios for documenting learning. The artwork is an example of an artifact that demonstrates individual understanding of complex concepts, in this example: relationships in teaching and learning, outcomes and assessment.


One thought on “Assessing Online Learning

  1. Pingback: Assessing Online Learning | The eLearning Site

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