Assessing Student Learning Outcomes in an Online Environment

Best Practices, Tips, and Resources for Faculty

Consider some ofo these best practices, tips, and resources when planning your online learning assessments:

Alignment

ALIGNMENT: Use assessments that align to learning outcomes and work well in an online environment.

Aligning the learning outcomes from your course with assessment strategies will give you the opportunity to check that your students are accomplishing the learning outcomes.

Learning Outcomes Assessment Strategies
Identify... Post photographs, complete a quiz
Describe... Write an essay, create a graph
Analyze... Write a lab report, relate a theory to a real world scenario
Create... Write programming code, build a model
Synthesize... Create a blog or wiki, complete a research paper

Using a variety of assessment techniques throughout the course provides instructors with the best picture of their students' learning. While there is no rule about what works best, and different subject matters call for different types of assessments, the following are some generalized methods that work well in an online environment (adapted from Palloff and Pratt, 2009).

  • Performance assessments: students develop a product such as a blog or wiki
  • Authentic assessments: students complete work under the same conditions that they would in the real world
  • Portfolio assessments: students demonstrate progress over time by showcasing artifacts and reflecting on their learning
  • Computer generated and scored tests and quizzes: allow for banks of questions, randomization and, in some cases, instant feedback

Clarity

CLARITY: Write clear assignment instructions, use grading rubrics, and share them with students.

In an online environment, the potential for students to become confused by coursework expectations may be higher than in a traditional class setting. As a result, it is crucial that assignment instructions and expectations for student work are made clear from the beginning. Providing students with written instructions for each assignment can be helpful.

Guidelines for written assignment instructions

Design and use grading rubrics to provide clear guidelines about what constitutes quality work. Rubrics can be tailored to fit the needs of the instructor.  Some resources and websites you can use to build rubrics can be found at the link below.

Building grading rubrics, examples of rubrics for online instruction

Feedback

FEEDBACK: Provide feedback early and often, and ask students to do the same.

Timely and frequent feedback is especially important in an  online environment where the chance for students to become confused or feel alienated is greater than in a traditional course. Ask students early in the term how the course is going and for suggestions for improvement.

Encourage students to develop good feedback skills by integrating peer feedback as a course component. Peer feedback promotes collaborative learning and can include responses to discussion posts or peer review of projects. Instructors should provide students with guidelines about how to give constructive feedback.

Good feedback skills guidelines

Reflection

REFLECTION: Include self-reflection as a foundational course component and offer credit for it.

Require students to reflect on their learning at least twice during the course. Self-reflection increases students' ability to identify which concepts they understand versus those that are more challenging. Some methods for incorporating self-reflection of learning into assignments can be found at the follow link.

Methods for including self-reflection

Integrity

INTEGRITY: Minimize the likelihood of cheating and plagiarism in the Online environment.

Assessment in an online environment can bring up concerns about cheating and plagiarism. RIT has institutional policies and practices in place to decrease the likelihood of such occurrences in any environment; however, there are several things an instructor can do to prevent cheating and plagiarism in an online course.

  1. Clearly state RIT's Academic Honesty Policy, define cheating, and make the consequences of cheating known to students in the course syllabus and materials
  2. Collect student work in multiple stages as it is developed: ask students to hand in outlines, early drafts, topic statements, or annotated bibliographies as a portion of their grade on the assignment. Use assessment methods, such as portfolios, in which students demonstrate progress over time with a collection of their work.
  3. Use authentic assessments: Authentic assessment requires student apply their knowledge and skills to perform real-world tasks. By asking students to apply course material to their personal or professional lives, they are more likely to view the task as relevant.

Administering Exams Online:

Offering exams in an online environment can be challenging for instructors. Opportunities for cheating are amplified online; however, requiring students to come to campus and sit for a proctored exam may not be possible. In general, online course assessment should not rely heavily on traditional exams. If an exam is necessary, instructors can do the following to minimize the possibility of cheating.

  • Keep the percentage of the course grade that is tied to online quizzes and exams low
  • Randomize test questions and the order of answers so no two students take the same test
  • Design exams as open-book, take-home exams
  • Set a limited window for testing completion

Additional recommendations for Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education from WCET can be found at http://wcet.wiche.edu/wcet/docs/cigs/studentauthentication/BestPractices.pdf.

Technology

TECHNOLOGY: Use the Online environment to your advantage.

There is much discussion about the challenges of assessment in the online environment; however, the online environment offers opportunities for innovative course design and assessment. Some examples of assessment techniques that can be enhanced in an online environment include:

  • Blogs and wikis
  • Internet based case studies, research projects, and webquests
  • Instant feedback from computer-generated and scored tests and quizzes
  • Getting ahead, or "hitting the ground running:" the online environment allows students and instructors the opportunity to get started early on foundational course contect or supplemental learning activities.

For more information or help designing these assessments, go to RIT's Teaching & Learning Services website.

 

Here is a list of resources used to develop SLOA’s Online Learning Assessment Best Practices, Tips, and Resources for Instructors.