One of the most difficult tasks the online instructor has is to assess student performance. Magennis and Farrell (2005) define teaching as a set of activities that makes learning possible. Assessment strategies should not only measure the degree to which learning has occurred, but should be learning activities in and of themselves (Gaytan, 2002). Tests and quizzes are most often used to assess learning, but are not necessarily the best way to assess discussion-based courses or even skill-based courses as they generally measure the amount of information retained rather than the degree to which learning has occurred. Angelo and Cross (1993) note that the outcomes of assessments are often a disappointment to the instructor as they do not provide feedback on how well teaching activities promoted learning. This may be especially true in the online environment, where instructors are separated from students by time and space, increasing concern about academic integrity along with concern about assessment outcomes. How, then, does the instructor who wants to move away from the use of tests and quizzes develop assessment techniques that measure student learning? How can the use of varied assessment techniques and the development of a supportive online learning community increase the academic integrity of online courses? The following is a discussion of assessment techniques that work well online, and concerns about academic integrity that are often expressed by instructors regarding online learning. Finally, the development of an online learning community is explored as a means by which to reduce these concerns and increase the level of academic integrity online.
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.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Online Learning Communities: Groups of students and faculty connected solely via technology. All interactions begin and occur over the Internet, through conference calls, via videoconferencing, and so forth. Online learning communities are comprised of people brought together with a definite purpose, generally the completion of a course and/or program, and guided by processes that involve interaction, collaboration, and social construction of knowledge and meaning (Palloff & Pratt, 2007).
Academic Integrity: McCabe and Pavela (n.d.) describe academic integrity as the pursuit of truth in education. A commitment to academic integrity is supported by the establishment of academic standards, mutual respect between faculty and students, fair assessment, and punitive action when dishonesty occurs.
Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of material written by another, but presented as if it is one’s own. Plagiarism can occur with published or unpublished sources. Forms of plagiarism in online courses include students copying the work of another student posted to an online discussion board, purchasing a term paper written by another, or utilizing uncited material from published sources.
Authentic Assessment: Authentic assessments are application activities that provide real-world challenges to learners that encourage them to apply skills learned and knowledge gained in a course.
Rubrics: Rubrics are a means by which student performance on an assessment activity can be appraised. Often presented in grid format, rubrics establish the gradable criteria for the assignment and define categories of performance from basic accomplishment of the task to exceptional performance.
Good Practices: Chickering and Gamson (1985) published a monograph putting forth seven principles considered to be good practice in undergraduate education. They are, - Encourages contact between student and faculty - Develops reciprocity and cooperation between students - Gives prompt feedback - Emphasizes time on task - Communicates high expectations - Respects diverse talents and ways of learning. In addition to other outcomes, these practices promote student responsibility for learning.
Deadline-Driven Desperation: Panic on the part of students causing a desperate need to perform that is driven by class deadlines, often resulting in a tendency to cheat on or plagiarize assignments. Asking students to submit assignments in manageable pieces throughout the term tends to reduce the level of anxiety, thus reducing the tendency to cheat.
Blended Learning: Courses that integrate face-to-face and online learning.