The upsides of assessment-centred online environments

In many ways, the online environment offers considerable support for the development of assessment-centred learning.

In the following activity, click 'Next' to read through some of the upsides of assessment-centred learning environments.

The following bullet points provide a checklist of some of the upsides of assessment-centred learning:

Key terms

Formative assessment: Ongoing assessment intended to be used as...

  • Online learning necessitates ongoing assessment simply because assessment and feedback are amongst the main avenues for teacher/student interaction.
  • Aligning assessment tasks with the intended learning outcomes can help confirm student understanding and performance.
  • Most learning management systems (LMSs)/virtual learning environments (VLEs) provide very complete records of student work, including user logs and discussion transcripts, and make these available from a range of perspectives including, for example, individual e-portfolios.
  • Most LMS/VLE systems support multiple and varied forms of assessment, involving diverse media, peer-assessment, self assessment and revision sequences.
  • Most LMS/VLE systems make managing and marking assessments quite easy for teachers in ways that are also transparent to learners.
  • Computer-based tools make it possible to embed feedback (including oral and video feedback) within student work, thus linking feedback to performance on complex assignments.
  • Computer-based assessments can be easily embedded in online courses to give automated and instantaneous feedback to students on their learning of discrete concepts, making it possible to provide far greater opportunities for self assessment with little cost to teachers.

... and the downsides of assessment-centred online environments

Whilst considering all of the upsides of assessment-centred online environments, we should also acknowledge the challenges:

Useful links

'Authentic conditions for authentic assessment: Aligning task and...

  • Assessing complex learning and providing rich feedback can sometimes be taxing for online teachers, since the lack of regular face-to-face meetings makes frequent, regular feedback more critical.
  • Online teachers typically need to develop and assess assignments without the opportunity to informally assess and remediate student understanding as is typical in the classroom.
  • The online course is always 'on' and online learners often expect a fast return on assessments.

Providing personal feedback

Although automated assessments are easily managed online and should be employed as appropriate, research suggests that online learners benefit more from personal feedback tailored specifically to their needs (Kashy, Abertelli, Bauer, Kashy, & Thoennessen, 2003), especially when learning involves higher order understanding and the application of knowledge (Riccomini, 2002).

One solution to this conundrum may be found in Bill Pelz's (2004) first principle of effective online pedagogy – let students do most of the work. Pelz suggests having students lead discussions based on text chapters, locate and discuss relevant web resources, check and mark their own homework, and provide initial feedback on assignments to each other. The teacher, he argues, can then concentrate on thoughtfully providing structure, direction, support, and corrective feedback when necessary, and making final evaluations.

evaluation

A systematic process of determining the merit value or worth of the teaching or programme; it helps us determine if a course is effective (course goals) and informs our design efforts (formative during the course, summative following the course).

In the following video, online practitioners talk about building various forms of assessment and assessment-centred activities into their online courses. Listen to their ideas, and consider how you might adapt their successes to your own online courses.

In the following interviews, online practitioners talk about building various forms of assessment and assessment-centred activities into their online courses. Consider their ideas, and think about how you might adapt their successes to your own online courses.

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Community-centred online environments

Tight-knit communities

Did you know?

In the Community of Inquiry framework, social presence is what supports the...

Participants in online courses often feel less psychological distance between themselves and their classmates than they do in face-to-face classrooms (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997; Richardson & Swan, 2003; Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Swan, 2002; Walther, 1994). Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that learners participating in community-centred online courses are more likely to persist in them and in their university programmes. Similarly, it seems that students' social and learning networks are increasingly shaped by online tools and media and today's students inhabit online communities more comfortably and organically than previous generations (Ito et al, 2013). Crucially, the development of community is something that must be consciously engineered and supported in online courses (Shea, Li, Swan, & Pickett, 2005), perhaps more so than in face-to-face classrooms (Rovai, 2002).

The larger community

Practical tip

Online discussions and team project assignments can be a great way to...

The second level of community-centredness, making connections to students' larger community and culture, is less well-documented, perhaps because it seems much more straightforward in online environments. The interconnectedness of internet sites and their frequent updating makes it quite easy, to a greater or lesser degree, to link it to local communities and cultures and/or to situate it in authentic, real world problems.

Interactivity icon

Online discussions and learning activities can be designed to engage students' interests and experiences and tend to more fully engage learners when they do. Unlike other venues, however, online discussions and activities can involve more experienced others from around the world, thus allowing for the development of learning communities that are not limited by space and time. Anecdotal accounts suggest such strategies are very effective in supporting learning online.

learning communities

Groups of students who engage in collective learning in a shared classroom or residential community.

In the following video, online practitioners consider the various approaches to building a sense of community in online and blended courses and discuss the impact of social media.

In the following interviews, online practitioners consider the various approaches to building a sense of community in online and blended courses and discuss the impact of social media.

social media

Communication media which allow for the creation of online communities and the sharing of information, ideas, personal messages, etc. Social media is used in online learning as a virtual 'hallway' for interaction and to foster collaborative learning.

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Portfolio activity

Create a list of assessment-centred and community-centred...

Designing learning environments to be assessment-centred means making sure that even summative assessments are opportunities for learning. Assessment-centred learning environments make assessment part of learning by providing ongoing and authentic assessment of deep understanding and the learners' ability to apply it to real-world tasks. Community-centred learning environments are designed to support the social construction of knowledge within relatively small, tight-knit learning communities and to explicitly link learning to the larger community in which we find ourselves.

summative assessment

Assessment of learning intended to be used to evaluate a learner's knowledge of a topic at a particular point in time.


Key terms

Formative assessment: Ongoing assessment intended to be used as feedback to improve learning and teaching processes.

Summative assessment: Assessment of learning intended to be used to evaluate a learner's knowledge of a topic at a particular point in time.

Authentic assessment: Assessment involving the learner's ability to apply knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems or perform real-world tasks.

Aligned assessment: Where assessment tasks elicit student understanding and performances that are clearly stated in the course learning outcomes and practised in the teaching and learning activities.

Embedded assessments: Assessments that make use of the actual work that students produce in their courses.

Communities of practice: Groups of people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour (e.g. shared work). See www.ewenger.com/theory/

Learning communities: Groups of students who engage in collective learning in a shared classroom or residential community.

Useful links

Did you know?

In the Community of Inquiry framework, social presence is what supports the development of community. However, research suggests that teaching presence is what supports the development of social presence (see Shea & Bidjerano, 2008).

There is some evidence which suggests that blended learning environments are more supportive of the development of learners' sense of community than either fully online or face-to-face environments (see Rovai & Jordan, 2005 at www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/192/274)

Practical tip

Online discussions and team project assignments can be a great way to bridge the gaps of space and location in the online classroom. Careful consideration needs to be given however to the necessity of these interactions. Your learners may soon grow frustrated with discussions or team activities they feel do not contribute to their learning. A few well-placed activities such as these that can be directly linked to the course objectives can be more effective than multiple activities that the students may view as 'busy work'. Be prepared to try a technique or two and then adjust based on the feedback from the learners.

Portfolio

Duration: 20 minutes

Create a list of assessment-centred and community-centred activities to use in your online course.

Use the attached document to record your ideas, or complete the relevant page of your Teaching Online portfolio.