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From Steve’s Head

Testing, Testing…

Last week, I listed a number of articles that looked at issues surrounding plagiarism in the classroom, both real and virtual. A natural offshoot, I figured, was the exploration of assessment. The topic of assessment has always interested me…how can we effectively gauge whether the concepts/skills/information presented in a classroom has effectively been understood by the learners, and to what extent? I had a couple of articles in my reading stack that related to assessment, but I needed to flesh this out a bit, so I began searching for a few more interesting takes on the topic. I can honestly say it was difficult to find good articles that addressed assessment in online courses, or that could be adapted.

Why is this the case? Yes, part of this can be chalked up to the fact that online learning is still a relatively recent development; people are still trying to feel their way around effective online assessment. And there are certainly challenges to overcome when trying to assess students from a remote location. Often, the vast distances that separate learner and teacher means that assessment has to be done asynchronously. Does this make assessment more challenging? Certainly. Does it mean that assessment has to be relegated to test questions and discussion posts. I don’t see that as being the case. These are very easy solutions, but they can also be very limiting. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not joining the fashionable bandwagon that says multiple choice tests are ineffective. Those of you that have tried to write effective multiple choice test questions can vouch for the fact that you can test at amuch higher level than simple recall. However, you can also vouch for the fact that such questions are difficult and time-consuming to write.

So what’s the solution? As usual, I have none that I can offer readily. I know from experience, that several online courses that I’ve taken have incorporated creative and effective assessment techniques that I can recommend:

  • Posting article reviews, commentaries, questions, etc. to a list serv that includes learners as well as outsiders (i.e, professionals, individuals with strong interests in the subject area, etc). It allows for interesting feedback and discussions and does not feel artificial, since there are non-students present.
  • Organizing and running a weeklong virtual seminar on a relevant course topic
  • Selecting an article, analyzing the significant topics it includes, and then creating your own narrative (story) that address the issues and topics the group identified

    Interestingly, all of these examples involved group work in the virtual classroom. This was something that seemed so impossible to me when I first started taking online courses – based on everything that I’d heard, you were supposed to feel isolated without the physical presence of other students, an instructor. Instead, these activities did not only help overcome that problem, they managed to assess the research and thinking that I had to do when working with course content. Was it easy for these instructors to come up with these assessments and work out all of the related logistics? I would wager that it took a fair bit of time to come up with these solutions. Was it worth it? Based on the comments from all of the students, I would say, overwhelmingly, yes!

    See you next week. Happy reading!


    Performance Assessment

    Quote: “This is not to say that concepts, facts, definitions, dates, names, and locations have no place in education. However, as these critics point out, many of our assessment practices place too much emphasis on assessing content and give far too little attention to the skills and knowledge listed above. They also argue that we must no longer treat assessment (testing) as fundamentally separate from instruction.”

    Comment: An interesting examination of a variety of assessment issues. The author briefly examines both the popularity and the criticisms levelled against standardized testing, as well as some of the problems associated with content-based instruction. The bulk of the article examines alternative assessment techniques such as performance assessment, authentic assessment, performance criteria, portfolios, as well as providing a fairly detailed example of developing performance tasks. Lots of territory covered here.

    A Brief Overview of Assessing Learning in Online Classes

    Quote: “I have been involved in over two dozen online classes and I have found that student frustration in distance learning (DL) can be attributed to two main problems: not enough feedback, and not knowing how they will be assessed…Assessment and evaluation of learning must leave no room for ambiguity. Even before you create your syllabus, you need to give serious consideration to what type of assesment system you want to use for your class, whether it is a traditional or online class, or a combination of both (hybrid class).”

    Comment: This article briefly comments about the limitations of multiple choice testing before exploring a number of alternative assessment strategies. Instead of leading students to focus on one “right” answer, courses (and their assessment strategies) should allow students to explore the range of possiblities, explore differing viewpoints, discuss and debate with their classmates. This approach creates more work for the instructor, but allows for an “optimal learning experience” for the students.

    Effective Online Assessment Strategies for Today’s Colleges and Universities

    Quote: “A relavant approach to assessing adult learners supports a student centered educational philosophy. The focus involves helping individuals become more self-directed in their learning plans and activities. This is a situational goal that requires assessment procedures that acknowledges their needs, gifts and talents. Teachers must recognize that adults are autonomous learners who have varying degrees of independence in their study habits and desire relevance in the evaluation of their assignments.”

    Comment: One of the interesting points brought up in this article is a survey that showed a majority of students viewed assessment as a teacher oriented activity. Yes, it was only one study, but it was a revelational concept. Since this is an assessment of student knowledge, I’d never conceived that opinions like that would exist. The focus presented (if you haven’t guessed by now…) is how to structure course assessment to create a student-centered course. There are some good ideas presented here.

    Interactive Assessment and Course Transformation Using Web-Based Tools

    Quote: “Interactive assessment implies a dynamic process that is both formative and summative. It is based on examination of the three aforementioned dimensions: the instructor’s perception, the student’s perception, and the student’s performance. Students are provided with instruments to let the instructor know what went well and what did not, both in terms of their performance and in terms of their perceptions of the teacher’s performance. Constantly getting back to the students closes what Angelo and Cross (1993) call the ‘classroom feedback loop.’ And as they point out, when ‘this approach becomes integrated into everyday classroom activities, the communications loop connecting faculty to students – and teaching to learning – becomes more efficient and more effective’.”

    Comment: I always like to try and include an article that features the actual experiences of someone who has implemented some of the ideas being examined…and this article is it. One of the nice things about the experiences being presented is that they are good examples of “toe in the water” approaches – there is nothing here that is so difficult to try that it should discourage new users of online pedagogy and technology. If you are new to this area, this article provides a number of ideas that are great places to start.