This document is part of a larger collection of documents on online instruction from the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring's Instructional Resources KnowledgeBase. See more online instruction documents from that collection.
Ways of assessing and measuring learning in an online course
Assessments are fundamental to the learning experience. They are the tools by which the instructor measures the degree to which the students have achieved the stated learning objectives of a course, unit, or content. Assessments may take many forms; for example, they might include instructor assessment of the student, student self-assessment, and peer assessment. Instructors are encouraged to include a variety of assessment methods, such as quizzes or exams, papers, projects, online discussions, journals, case studies, or presentations—to name a few.
Assessment is important for both online course instructors and their students. Without assessments, online instructors would have a difficult time determining whether or not their students have achieved mastery of the course content. Thus, assessments are a critical component of the online course, to which instructors should devote considerable planning and development time. From the online student’s perspective, assessments help them gauge the level and quality of their learning. Knowing which learning objectives or competencies they have fully mastered and which they still need to work on provides students important feedback and identifies opportunities for improvement.
There are three primary forms of assessment of student learning. Each should be used strategically depending on the type of material and the timeframe for the assessment:
Diagnostic assessments capture students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions on a given topic in order to pinpoint their individual strengths and areas needing improvement before the course, unit, or learning activity begins. Also known as a “pre-assessment,” they can provide instructors with the information they can use to adjust the course or learning activity according to students’ prior knowledge. This type of assessment can also help instructors identify what content needs to be taught, mastered, or discussed within the course.
In other words…
A diagnostic assessment answers the question: How will student prior knowledge be assessed?
Formative assessments measure current student learning and areas needing improvement in order to provide feedback that can be used developmentally as the course progresses. Also known as Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), they enable instructors to determine what and how students are learning in order to better plan instruction and learning activities. In addition, formative assessments can help students use the results to adjust and improve their own learning. This type of assessment may be used in either small or large increment as the course progresses; for example, a discussion post may be required following an online lecture, or a one-minute paper may be assigned after students complete a required course activity.
In other words…
A formative assessment answers the question: How will feedback to assess student progress be provided?
A summative assessment might be a final exam or it might be an authentic assessment where students apply knowledge to a real-world scenario. For example, a business student may be asked to create a balance sheet or a journalism student might produce a newscast.
In other words…
A summative assessment answers the question: How will student understanding, usually toward a grade, be determined?
The following table provides examples of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments and links to resources and samples.
Please note: Not all of the listed technologies are officially supported by the university.