Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Guest Post: Assessment in the Distance Course

If you’re like most online instructors, you probably do more summative assessments in your courses than formative assessments. That may be because distance learning is still new to many in higher education and the translation of classroom assessment techniques (CATs) from face-to-face to virtual environments are still being explored.

As a refresher, summative assessments are provided to test what students have learned in your course. Quizzes, exams, final exams, and final papers are all examples of summative assessments. Formative assessments are classroom assessment techniques designed to gather feedback from students throughout the semester in order to gauge learning, prepare them for higher-stakes grading projects later in the semester via practice tests or assignments, and/or to modify teaching strategies to meet student needs.

How can you gauge the extent to which students are picking up on the information you are trying to impart? In a face-to-face environment you could just ask students or read their body language as you conduct a visual survey of your classroom. In the virtual world, it’s not quite that simple; but, it can be done. There are tools available in the online environment to help you ferret out the raised eyebrow, blank stare, and furrowed brow of students who just aren’t “getting it.”

When you provide feedback on test questions, add comments for students in the grade book, and use track changes on student’s written assignments, you are providing students with valuable feedback that they can use on their next assignment. But, in “real-time” terms, what can you do to help students course correct on this, the current, assignment?

Remember how you used to stand up in front of the class and check for understanding by asking, “Did everybody get that?” or “Any questions so far?” Well, here are a few online equivalents that are probably used most frequently: email, a muddiest-point discussion board forum, analytic rubrics, and assignment and grade book comments. Self-assessment surveys, practice tests, and synchronous chat are seen less often, which is surprising since they are not difficult to execute. As an example, the Distance Education office here at Texas Woman’s University offers training on Wimba Classroom, which instructors can use for office hours, synchronous chat, or student presentations. In addition, most publishers offer companion websites for their text books, which contain learning activities that students can access for free just by going to the text book site. The activities include practice quizzes to help students prepare for tests, glossaries, flashcards and crossword puzzles.

The point is that while researchers continue to find ways to bridge the time and space gap in the asynchronous online learning environment, faculty can still find out if students are “getting it”. TWU ID has some excellent resources at their “Assessment in the Distance Course” section which you can access at the following link:

This post contributed by Margaret Cortez.

Margaret Cortez is the Course Support Specialist for the TWU Department of Health Studies.

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