Team Blue presents...

…a manual for educators, administrators, and curriculum designers
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With the continued development of available technology, more frequent and varied methods of assessment are available to distance educators (Meyen, Aust, Bui, & Issacson, 2002). Even though some of these new forms of evaluation may be fun and novel, instructors need to ensure that the focus of assessment remains on determining how well the learner has satisfied the standards and goals set by the course.

Designing Online Assessment

When considering different forms of assessment in distance education, there are several questions that need to be considered.

  • Which perspectives for learning are going to be assessed, cognitive (acquisition of knowledge), behavioral (skill development), or humanistic (values and attitudes)?
  • Who is going to make the assessment, the student, their peers, or the instructor?
  • Will assessment strategies be learning experiences in themselves?
  • Is the assessment to be formative (providing feedback during learning) or summative (measuring learning at the end of the process)?
  • Are judgments of performance made against peer standards (norm referenced) or established criteria (criterion referenced)?
  • How can assessment provide a balance between structure and freedom?
  • Will the assessment be authentic, related to real life situations?
  • Will the assessment be integrated, testing a range of knowledge and skills?
  • How can reliability and validity of assessment be assured?
From Kibby (2003), Assessing Students Online.

Types of Assessment

Using current technology and course management systems, there are many different types of assessment options available to instructors.

One common method of assessing students is through some sort of online communication and interaction. This may come in the form of participating in a discussion forum about various topics, sharing thoughts through email, or posting video or audio responses to a question. Students may interact solely with the instructor, but more often, they are asked to discuss the topics among themselves with instructor guidance and prompting. This activity mimics the class discussion period of a traditional classroom and lets student share knowledge and display their understanding of the subject.

Red Pencils for Grading Tests

A second common assessment method is to have students write essays or papers on the subject. This is very similar to writing a research paper or essay for a traditional class and something that most students will be familiar with. While convenient, week after week of simply writing text can become monotonous.

Consider allowing student to demonstrate their knowledge through more multi-media driven applications such as using PowerPoint presentations or creating audio podcasts. If students have the necessary resources and skills, they may create websites, flash animations, videos, or any other form of demonstrating that they have sufficiently mastered the topic.

Giving timed and/or closed book examinations is one of the most difficult traditional classroom practices to transition into distance education. In a classroom setting, the instructor can monitor student activity. When a student is physically located in a remote location, it becomes more challenging to ensure that students are not using prohibited resources to assist them. While the easiest course of action is to rely on student integrity, some institutions have gone as far as locking internet browsers and employing webcams to monitor students during testing.

Expectations and Feedback

One of the most challenging aspects of distance courses for students is the potential that they may have questions about assignments or grading practices that are not addressed by the instructor prior to assignment due dates. There are steps to take to put students at ease.

Stressed out student.

The easiest measure to take is to state expectations up front and often. Providing students with the rubrics that will be used to grade their assignments allows them to make sure they work to meet instructor expectations. Often, a rubric can help clarify the specific requirements for an assignment even when directions are unintentionally vague or misleading. Give students policies on late work, submissions requirements, and anything else that may be important later on in the course.

Another important part of teaching over a distance is to provide timely feedback. By returning assignments well before the next one is due, students look at formatting errors they may have made and comments the instructor had. This feedback can then be incorporated into the next assignment.

By clearly stating expectations and giving prompt feedback, instructors can calm nervous students and help to ease the transition from the classroom to distance education.