Assessments are of course important from a regulatory compliance and assurance of learning perspective. However, when teaching remote students, assessments can be used as an important tool for learner tracking and for engagement and motivation. Regular assessments (at least once a week) will enable faculty to track if students are progressing / engaging with the course and understanding the learning material and style. Faculty and teaching assistance have the opportunity to provide feedback whenever they are stuck.
Finally, using technology to celebrate accomplishments and share the students' progress, you can motivate other students to stay engaged and complete the course as well. Creating this peer pressure in a physical classroom is easy because the students are sitting next to each other and many times faculty automatically call out the best performers creating that peer pressure. However, to do this online at scale, technology can be used.
Different kinds of assessments
The most simple and traditional way of assessing students (and the practice in most colleges) is to have an exam at the end of the course or after a semester / term. However, as discussed above, this is not a successful strategy in an online program as you miss the opportunity to engage students and motivate them weekly through short quizzes, descriptive assignments and application oriented projects.
Types of Assessment:
1. Formative Assessment - These are embedded throughout the program at regular intervals (ideally weekly) to test the students' understanding of a certain topic or ability to apply the concept to a specific problem. They can be in the form of
Online discussions ( these mimic the discussions students have in class) and can be graded
Multiple choice questions
Individual written assignment
2. Summative assessment - Are designed to assess whether a learner has achieved the learning goals for the program. These assessments are taken at the end of the program and are in the form an individual assignment or a capstone project involving the learner to apply learnings to real world problems or a case study. This helps to connect the dots between all the topics covered in the program and assess whether they are to apply learnings in the professional settings / jobs etc.
These exams might have to be proctored and strictly evaluated
Best Practices for designing assessments
Assessment should have a rubric : Rubrics are essential tools for evaluating students and providing visibility for students as to how the assessment is designed and what it will evaluate. Again in a physical classroom environment, this might not have to be written down because as soon as faculty announces an assessment, students will ask questions and faculty will clarify them. For an online assessment, since that opportunity does not exist, by providing as much clarity as possible in the question itself, the faculty can preempt student’s confusion. Moreover, a clear rubric enables students to understand their strengths and areas of improvement. By defining rubric, instructors can assess them on parameters like conceptual knowledge, technical knowledge and application of concepts and accordingly recommend them areas of improvement.
Assessment should ideally be placed at regular intervals in the course and be predictable: By providing sufficient time in between assessments, faculty can ensure that during any given week, there is ample work to do for the course, but not too much that they are not able to complete. Having predictability is very important in an online setting so that students can plan their schedules in advance and not forget the activities they are supposed to. For example, have an assessment released every Wednesday, for which the submission is due the next Wednesday.
Self Assessment /practice assignments - A good practice is to share practice or ungraded quizzes / assignments along with solutions to help learners gauge what is their level of understanding for a particular concept before they take up the graded assessment. It is an opportunity to set expectations for the level of the assessment. In an online environment, expectation setting is key and sometimes the best way to do that is by allowing students to experience the practice exam.
Providing Feedback - It is important to provide timely and accurate feedback to learners on their assessments to ensure they meet the learning outcomes of the program. Timely feedback helps them in identifying and working on the areas of improvement and self assess the progress they have made in the course.
Feedback should be provided on all parameters shared in the rubric
Also an overall feedback should be shared around what went well and what are the areas of improvement the learner needs to work upon.