Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Assessment in Online Courses

(Just a note: I asked my friend Tony if I could share the story I relate in this post, and he agreed. He's a great guy.)

I recently posted about "good" assessment, and I mentioned there that I try and use a variety of assessment strategies in the classes I teach, including:
  1. Observation--reading facial expression and body language and students' questions and the kinds of answers they give to my questions
  2. Projects and performances--especially for tasks or skills
  3. Conferences, interviews, and small group meetings--to allow for more personalized interactions and deeper understanding (for me) of what students know and understand
  4. Tests and quizzes--which don't hold as important a place as they once did, but are still present, and still valuable
While this wasn't really specifically about assessment in online courses, I have taught a number courses online over the past few years, and I've been having conversations with several colleagues lately about teaching online. It was in this light that my friend Tony responded with an honest comment in reaction:

"I know this post is about test questions and your focus is probably on elementary and high school assessment but I also noticed that your first three bullets (on non-testing assessment) are nigh-well impossible to achieve in an online setting."

I was SO glad he raised this question! It seems that many people picture online learning as either
A) a correspondence course, or
B) a MOOC.

I've taken several online courses and I've also taught several, so based on my experience, an online course doesn't necessarily fit into either of these categories, but I know they certainly can, so it's no wonder that people picture them this way.

Here was my response to Tony's comment:

Not sure I agree entirely, Tony. I've actually used all three of these assessment strategies in the online courses I've taught (and I rarely give objective tests or quizzes.) Examples:
  • Certainly reading body English is out, but I think you can still track the discussion and questions students raise, which definitely have guided my future instruction in the online courses I have taught. 
  • Every online course I've taught (I think it's five now...or six?) has been project-based, rather than test-based. My students create digital stories, collaborate using Google Drive, develop online presentations for their classmates, etc. Just because the class is online doesn't mean you can't have students interacting with each other or generating authentic products.
  • One of my current professors in my doctoral work does a great job of conferencing with us. I've skyped with him several times, and we keep in close contact via email. It is different than having a student meet with you in your office, but that's a question of the medium involved, not the ability to communicate.
It looks a little different in an online setting, but all of these assessment vehicles are possible, and valuable! 

Image by colemama CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Our conversation went on from there, and we talked about other elements to online teaching and learning, but I thought this exchange was worth sharing.

To those of you who teach online, what assessment strategies do you use?

To those curious about teaching and learning online, what questions do you have?

I think this is a conversation we need to have.

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