Key terms

Metacognition: refers to knowledge of one's own cognitive processes or...

The goal of a community of inquiry approach is to create opportunities for online students to take responsibility and ownership for their learning. Self assessment requires students to reflect on their work, evaluate their performance on the basis of assessment criteria and identify how to improve their performance in the future.

Often students have limited previous experience with self assessment and thus, the challenge is to design scaffolded activities that provide them with the knowledge and confidence to meaningfully complete this process.

Two techniques that have been demonstrated to work effectively in online courses are the use of self assessment rubrics and journals.

In the following activity, consider the questions and answers to learn more about constructing rubrics and effectively using journals in an online course. For each question, pause to consider your thoughts, then use the 'Click to view more button' to see the response.
Consider the following questions and answers to learn more about constructing rubrics and effectively using journals in an online course. For each question, pause to consider your thoughts, then continue on to see our response.

Useful links

Alverno College, 'Assessment Essentials: Definition of Terms'...

Question 1 of 3:

What is a rubric?


The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group (2011) define a rubric as an explicit set of criteria used for assessing a particular type of work or performance. A rubric is usually displayed in tabular format. The left-hand column of the table contains learning outcomes criteria that are aligned with descriptors of student performance levels in the corresponding right-hand columns (e.g., beginning, intermediate, and advanced).

Question 2 of 3:

How can I use digital technologies to co-construct assessment rubrics with my online students?


In an online course, rubrics can be very useful for clarifying assignment and assessment expectations. It is recommended that students be involved in the co-construction of these rubrics, be provided with opportunities to practise applying rubrics to student work completed in previous course sections, and have the ability to add one unique marking component or criteria (e.g. creativity) in order to take ownership for the rubric.

There are several digital applications that can be used to create a rubric (i.e. Rubistar, Teachnology) or one can simply use Google Docs (see the 'Useful links' pod to the right for an example).

The key to creating a rubric is to begin with the intended learning outcomes for the assignment. These are usually listed in the left hand column of the rubric. Most rubrics then consist of three levels of criteria and scoring – beginning, developing, and accomplished. The criteria levels can be co-developed with the students. Finally, the students can practise using the rubric by applying it to assignments completed in previous course offerings.

Question 3 of 3:

What are some effective ways that students can use personal journals or diaries to self-assess their learning in an online course?


Online blogging tools such as WordPress and Google's Blogger are commonly being used to support journaling activities in an online course.

These journals can be useful for self-reflection but often online students comment that they can become a boring and repetitive activity when they are simply asked to reply to a set of teacher directed questions, which can reinforce a surface rather than a deep approach to learning.

In an online course, students should be provided with a high degree of control over their journal postings in order for them to discuss and develop their own metacognitive strategies. This can be achieved by designing journal assignments focused on process-orientated postings that lead to a final product such as an end of course self-reflection paper. This paper can then be assessed by the teacher using a rubric that has been co-constructed with the students in a digital format.

Self assessment – a note of caution

Self assessment is a powerful form of feedback that can be used to help students develop their metacognitive awareness. It should be used with caution though: it has been found that, although self assessment contributes to motivation and satisfaction, the association with learning is moderate (Sitzman et al., 2010). Therefore, to use it for summative assessment would carry validity concerns. Strategies to help ensure that students are provided with direction and practice on how to properly self-assess could include:

Video interview

In the following video, two students of online courses discuss their experiences...

In the following interviews, two students of online courses discuss their...

  • Providing exemplary models for students to benchmark themselves against
  • Discussing assessment criteria in depth with students before they carry out their self assessment
  • Providing a demonstration of yourself marking a piece of work to help students understand the process.

This form of assessment should also be used in combination with peer and teacher assessment practices in order to triangulate the feedback.

Key terms

Metacognition: refers to knowledge of one's own cognitive processes or anything related to them, e.g. the learning of relevant properties of information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact (Flavell, 1979, p.232).

Rubric: A tool or guide that helps to define the specific criteria for assessing a piece of work. It helps teachers to provide feedback and enables students to understand both assignment and assessment expectations and standards.

Useful links


In the following interviews, two students of online courses discuss their experiences of self assessment.

In what ways have you been asked to self-assess your work in an online course?

Nikki Mountford
Interdisciplinary MEd Student (also Manager with the Talent Management Team, Human Resources Department), University of Calgary

I've been asked to self-assess in a number of online courses. I find the graduate courses certainly involve a lot of self-reflection on your learning and moving forward. Creating a rubric was probably one of the hardest tasks that I've ever been asked to do for a self assessment. It's very easy to look at somebody else's content and provide some form of a rubric. The hardest thing was creating one for myself and then actually following it and meeting it.

Have you found self-assessment to be an effective way to improve?

Dr. Kathleen Cool
Former Online Graduate Student, Nova Southeastern University

I think that the online environment does lend yourself to reflect a lot on your own work and on what the expectations are of the class and of the professor. Just the discussion forum format, for example. It does really force you to analytically think about, you know like, whatever they want you to think about. Like, let's say you're learning about online environments and, you know, you have different pieces of literature that you're analysing. It does really make you think about how all of those documents relate to each other. And then when you actually put it together, you know unlike when you're actually just talking, you know, you kind of just form your sentence and then whoever listens to it, more often than not it just goes in one ear and then it goes out the other. But when you're writing, or at least when I'm writing, there's a sense of permanence that it's going to be there and that many people are going to be seeing it and critiquing it.

Nikki Mountford: I haven't found, personally, that self assessment was an effective way for me to improve. I did enjoy looking back at my materials, but I found that I'm very critical of my own content. So to look at it as an improvement, I looked at it as more of an opportunity to critique my own work and found all the negative aspects versus the positive, because I think we're harder on ourselves than others may be, due to different expectations.

Did anything surprise you about conducting self-assessment?

Dr. Kathleen Cool: Definitely. When I was asked to keep a journal, it wasn't actually a traditional journal, it was more the goal at the end of the class was to give a reflective essay on what we had learnt, and in the process, you know, obviously I was keeping notes. So I wasn't tending to it every day, but you know just sitting down and reflecting on what I had learnt during, you know the course of that period of time, it really made me realise to what extent education, and, I guess you know it is the same whether it's online or not, how much of a process it is.

What tips would you give to a fellow student about self-assessment on an online course?

Nikki Mountford: If I was to give any suggestions about self assessment in an online course, I would say, be honest, but don't be overly critical. Also, look for the positives as well as the negatives in your content that you're reviewing, but also look at it from a different approach. Try not to look at it in the same mindset. Try and step outside of it and almost give yourself a positive but professional critique. Be honest with yourself. Don't blow it up too much. So, keep a journal. Write down what works for you and what doesn't work for you as you're going, and you'll find if you can reflect back on that journal when you're doing your self assessments, you'll be able to take the next steps to improve on your next event.