Assessing the Online Learner
Early efforts at online teaching often touted moving content directly from the traditional face-to-face classroom into the online classroom and often resulted in unsatisfying and even unsuccessful learning experiences (Palloff & Pratt, 2007). Traditional means of conducting student assessment often accompanied attempts at delivering instruction through the use of lecture and other faculty-focused activities. However, as instructors have entered the online environment to teach, many have noted the difficulty of using traditional assessments, such as tests and quizzes, as effective assessment measures of student learning. Although the use of tests and quizzes can be seen as a time-saver for faculty, they are not necessarily the best measure of student learning online. Replicating assessments that are used in the face-to-face classroom without modification for online use is likely to cause frustration for learners and instructors alike (Milam, Voorhees, & Bedard-Voorhees, 2004). Regardless of the setting, however, good assessment is seen as an important element of teaching that can reduce the gap between what was taught and what was learned (Morgan & O’Reilly, 1999).
As online learning develops increasing sophistication both in terms of the technology in use as well as pedagogical technique, instructors are exploring other means by which the task of assessment can be conducted. Dunn, Morgan, O’Reilly, and Parry (2004) note that alternative and authentic assessments, such as projects, papers, and artifacts that integrate course concepts are more effective means by which to assess student learning online. The use of self-reflections, peer assessments, and clearly designed rubrics designating good projects and papers may align more closely with the objectives of an online course and will flow more easily into course content (Palloff & Pratt, 2008).
Angelo and Cross (1993) support the notion that in order for assessment to be effective, it must be embedded in and aligned with the design of the course. They note a number of characteristics of effective classroom assessment: It is learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and firmly rooted in good practice. Although they are discussing assessment techniques for the face-to-face classroom, these same principles can be effectively applied to the online classroom. Morgan and O’Reilly (1999) believe that if an online course is designed with clear guidelines and objectives, tasks and assignments that are relevant not only to the subject matter, but to students lives as well, and students understand what is expected of them, assessment will be in alignment with the course as a whole and will not be seen as a separate and cumbersome task.