Self-Assessment in Building Online Communities of Learning

Self-Assessment in Building Online Communities of Learning

Karen Weller Swanson (George Mason University, USA) and Mary Kayler (George Mason University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-739-3.ch034
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The incorporation of self-assessment techniques and opportunities within the online learning process can enhance student learning and support the development of self-directed learners. Formative assessment (evaluation of learning in process) enables students to take ownership of their learning and to also evaluate their learning in relationship to required course goals and objectives. Formative assessment use within online learning communities works to create strong communities of practice (student learning in relationship with peers); a constructivist orientation towards learning. Accountability for learning in conjunction with peers can support and advance student learning experiences, encourage active engagement, and provide authentic experiences that advance students’ understanding of their own developmental framework and the transformative nature of learning theories.
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How do instructors develop student ability to self-monitor and engage in online communities to promote independent learning? Through the use of an adult development model this chapter will discuss the intersection of teaching practices in online communities and learners’ self-assessment. The goal of self-assessment in online learning communities is two-fold: (a) to support student learning towards an end of increasing engaged performance on required objectives; and, (b) to advance student understanding of their development and the role that others play in influencing that development. Self-assessment enhances the transformative nature of learning theories and skills which can lead to increased student engagement in their own and others learning.

Three dominant characteristics are necessary for creating and sustaining online learning. The first is the intentional creation of a Community of Practice (CoP) which is a group of individuals who meet around a common topic for the purpose of building the knowledge of the participants, within which dialogue supports independent learning among participants. Wenger’s (2005) research suggests that a community of practice should enhance students’ personal and professional experiences. A second characteristic is using online communities to provide a space for students to make sense of course content in a socially constructed way which integrates theory, personal experience and application. The third characteristic is self-assessment; how students understand themselves and their contributions to group dynamics. Self-assessment informs students of their strengths and student-identified areas for improvement which can support a deepened understanding of effective participation within online communities and enhanced student learning. Using self-assessment as a form of evaluation to gauge student performance should be done in a formative manner (during the course) rather than summative (end of course) grade. Self-assessment opportunities that are built in at various points can have a long-term impact on student participation when done throughout the on-line course rather than at the end. Self-assessment supports students to reflect on their performance and contributions and identify areas or ways to more effectively participate with peers to increase learning opportunities and mastery of course objectives.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Adult Development: The process of individualizing one’s own thoughts in opinions. Development is promoted in the context of others such as parents, teachers and friends. One moves from a state of internalizing the beliefs held by others to a more sophisticated state of creating individualized views which incorporate parts and pieces from others.

Authentic Evidence or Data: Are items such as feedback from students and student work.

Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Refers to the process of teaching and learning in which students are at the heart of curriculum design, classroom interaction and evaluation techniques. For example, students are provided choice of readings, assignments and assessment tools in a class.

Feedback Cycle: A method of collecting information from students regarding their thoughts on a class, assignment or the community. Students are asked question which elicit specific responses which then the instructor reads and places in an organized format that represents the range of answers to a question. The students views are then presented at the next class and discussed. The information gathered over the course is used by the instructor to make adjustments to the curriculum, assignment and community interactions.

Resistance: The process of passive or aggressive responses by students to instruction or assignments.

Authentic Assessment: Is considered to be a real-life, problem-solving task used to demonstrate student’s mastery.

Self-Assessment: An act in which one evaluates their performance based on a previously determined set of objectives. The evaluation is supported by evidence provided by the individual. The purpose of self-assessment is to provide a constructivist approach for an individual to measure their contribution or performance on a task.

Community Of Practice: A group of individuals who meet around a common topic which hold specialized vocabulary and ways of knowing. It is within this group that one learns the intricacies of the topic and also helps to build knowledge in other participants.

Social Construction of Knowledge: The process of learning among a group of one’s peers. The learner begins with an initial understanding and constructs or builds new understandings as they have experiences and conversation within a learning community.

Community: The interactions among students and with the instructor of a course. The community is created through the distribution of power and voice in the class.

Formative Assessment: The use of dialogue between students and instructors throughout the process of a student completing a task. The purpose of formative assessment is to allow students to make adjustments to their product as their understanding increases based on feedback from the instructor. Formative assessment is in contrast to summative assessment which is an end-of task form of feedback in which the comments can no longer impact the student product.

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