Section 6.1: Student Assessment

The three phases of student assessment are initial, continuous feedback, and end of course.

Initial Phase.


In the initial phase, also known as initial student assessment, assessments are used to help the online instructor know who his/her students are and how they learn. This process can help the online instructor design a course that is learner-centered, a hallmark of good online course development (Palloff and Pratt, 2007, p. 11). Initial student assessment techniques can be used to determine the comfort level with technology and preferred learning styles (O’Neil, p. 144). Below are tools available to the online instructor to assess learner abilities and skills, readiness and characteristics:

Self-Introduction Discussion Forums. Self-introduction or ice-breaker discussion forums, a form of socio-emotional discussion forums, should be an activity conducted at the beginning of the course. This type of forum can provide the instructor with student characteristics information. The instructor will discover insights into the personal lives of students such as if they are working full time, personal commitments, and their goals for the course. The responses can also give the instructor an idea of the students’ learning style. Finally, through bios and self-introductions, the instructor can pick up on how students work with other students (Palloff et al., 2001).

*Readiness surveys. The following Online Learner Self-Assessment Survey developed by M.D. Roblyer for the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga Online M. Ed. Program is an instrument enabling students to assess their ability to succeed in an online learning environment: http://www.compasspointstaffing.com/UT150-OnlineLearning-SelfAssessment-Survey.pdf

*Computer skills assessment.
The following computer and technology skills have been identified for the online student (O’Neil et al., p. 63):

  • Ability to use devices to communicate with other systems to access data, upload, download

  • Ability to use e-mail to create, send, respond, use attachments

  • Ability to use presentation graphics such as PowerPoint to create slides, displays

  • Ability to create multimedia presentations

  • Ability to use word processing

  • Ability to navigate systems such as Blackboard and the Internet

  • Ability to navigate a Windows or MAC operating system to manipulate files using file manager, determine active printer, access installed applications, create and delete directories and files.

(*Information is elaborated upon in Section 1.5: Online Student Characteristics)

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Continuous Feedback.

  • Faculty can conduct continuous feedback throughout the semester, at any point within the course. Continuous feedback allows the instructor “to determine if students understand course materials and if lectures are presented clearly and logically” (O’Neil, p. 145). Instructors are then able to revise and make changes prior to the end of the semester. Below are some techniques used to gather continuous feedback data (p. 145):
  • Journaling and diaries. Through journal postings to a blog or discussion forum, instructors can assess attitudes and student satisfaction with the course. Also, participation in structured discussion forums can be an indicator of student motivation to participate as well as the student’s ability to comprehend the material.
  • Mid-semester assessment. “Things I don’t understand about _____________” discussion forum can help the instructor find new ways to explain concepts or clarify assignment requirements or guidelines. The “I Have a Question” discussion forum recommended in Section 4: Student Engagement, Motivation, and Classroom Management Strategies works well as a continuous feedback instrument.
  • Case Studies. Case studies are a form of assessment instructors can use to gauge student ability to internalize and apply concepts to a new context. 
  • Task Oriented or Structured Discussion Forums. A poor or minimal response to a question could indicate student thinking has not been stimulated or the student has not been motivated to respond. To help facilitate the discussion and engage the student in this instance, the instructor should comment by asking for more information or asking the student to share some aspect of their professional expertise (Palloff and Pratt, 2006).

End Student Feedback.

Students are assessed in terms of meeting the learning objectives. Suggested techniques are provided below (O’Neil et al., p. 146):

  • Quizzes/Exams/Tests. (see Section 6.4 Designing Quizzes/Exams/Tests)
  • Performances and Presentations. The chosen assessment must be tailored to the instructional activity and the desired outcome or objective. For example, in a public speaking course, the student must demonstrate competency in delivering a well crafted message and presentation. A performance assessment would be an appropriate tool to achieve the objective: “Developing skill in expressing oneself orally.” Obviously, a quiz would be an inappropriate assessment tool to evaluate the ability to express oneself orally.
  • E-Portfolios. Portfolios are a performance assessment tools. They can serve as a “repository where students showcase” their accomplishments, awards, projects, and writings (Anderson, 2008, p. 78). Working portfolios show a student’s best performance over time. This type of portfolio is more formative in nature, and students would have the chance to receive feedback and improve their portfolio over time (Jonassen, 2008, p. 220).
  • Reaction/Reflection papers and Self Evaluation. Students can be overwhelmed by having to write a reflection paper in the form of a narrative. Palloff and Pratt (2007) recommend creating a simple checklist or survey to gather insightful information from students encouraging them to think about their work. Brookfield’s Critical Incident Questionnaire can be utilized to assess student work in a consistent manner (p. 3). Link to Brookfield’s Critical Incident Questionnaire: http://www.valenciacc.edu/facultydevelopment/tla/documents/Brookfield.pdf
  • Peer evaluation. Peer evaluation can be implemented as both an end and continuous assessment instrument. Peer review is one of the most valuable collaborative exercises an instructor can include in the online learning experience. Smith, Cooper, and Lancaster (as cited by Tseng and Tsai, 2007) found that the peer evaluation process “helps students plan their own learning, identify their own strengths and weaknesses, target areas for remedial action, develop meta-cognitive and professional transferable skills, enhance their reflective thinking and problem solving abilities, and increase students’ interpersonal relationships in the classroom” (p. 1162).
  •  A benefit of peer evaluation for the instructor is the student provides a polished final product. Students also feel more confident in their work and finished project. Instructors must provide students with a rubric to grade other students and instructions on how to evaluate others.
  • Types of Peer feedback: Feedback can be Corrective, Reinforcing, Didactic, and Suggestive. It is recommended the instructor incorporate suggestive and reinforcing feedback most often. Didactic and corrective feedback should be rarely used. Tseng et al. provides the following type of peer feedback (p.  1167):
  • Corrective feedback: If a student’s preliminary design or information is incorrect, then a peer can give feedback to point it out or correct it directly. This kind of feedback can effectively reduce students’ incorrect design or information involved in projects.
  • Reinforcing feedback: Reinforcing feedback is given when what the student does is proper or correct. Positive feeling or recognition of the work is expressed. This kind of feedback sometimes occurs in the situation that students may be encouraged without explicitly knowing the reasons
  • Didactic feedback: In this kind of feedback, a peer may provide lengthy explanations when a student makes errors or provides inadequate information. In didactic feedback, lengthy explanations with a lecture tone are taken to direct the students to toward the right track.
  • Suggestive feedback: If a student’s preliminary design is incomplete rather than incorrect, a peer is likely to give advisory feedback, which is more indirect. The peer may alert the student that there is a problem without telling him exactly what the problem is. Such feedback can be in the form of hints, pauses in replying, or a rising emotional tone in order to redirect the student’s thinking. This kind of feedback is also considered a kind of scaffolding.

Resources for Tips on Providing Feedback:

http://humanresources.about.com/cs/communication/ht/Feedbackimpact.htm
http://humanresources.about.com/cs/communication/ht/receivefeedback.htm