Assessment of Complex Learning Outcomes in Online Learning Environments

Assessment of Complex Learning Outcomes in Online Learning Environments

Mahnaz Moallem (University of North Carolina, Wilmington and National Science Foundation, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch015
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Abstract

One of the most challenging issues facing educators in all levels of formal schooling, particularly higher education, is assessment of complex learning outcomes of what is called “21st century skills” (Bennett, Persky, Weissm, & Jenkins (NAEP), 2007). Faculty, administrators, students, parents, and the public at large are increasingly concerned about how assessment is conducted in higher education (Reeves, 2000). Scholars have also questioned current approaches to assessing institutional quality (Callan & Finney, 2002; Ewell, 2002), indicating assessing student learning should be the fundamental purpose of higher education. Over the years, various types of assessment models have been developed. The newer assessment models address complex learning outcomes and support measuring learning more authentically and providing alternatives to the conventional, test-based assessment models (Glaser & Silver, 1994; Resnick & Resnick, 1992; Sanders, 2001). Alternative assessment models and methods promise to promote authentic, real world learning, and to provide a diversity of learning opportunities so students are able to display critical thinking skills and greater depth of knowledge, connect learning to their daily lives, develop a deeper dialog over the course material, and foster both individual and group oriented learning activities (Muirhead, 2002).
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Introduction

One of the most challenging issues facing educators in all levels of formal schooling, particularly higher education, is assessment of complex learning outcomes of what is called “21st century skills” (Bennett, Persky, Weissm, & Jenkins (NAEP), 2007). Faculty, administrators, students, parents, and the public at large are increasingly concerned about how assessment is conducted in higher education (Reeves, 2000). Scholars have also questioned current approaches to assessing institutional quality (Callan & Finney, 2002; Ewell, 2002), indicating assessing student learning should be the fundamental purpose of higher education. Over the years, various types of assessment models have been developed. The newer assessment models address complex learning outcomes and support measuring learning more authentically and providing alternatives to the conventional, test-based assessment models (Glaser & Silver, 1994; Resnick & Resnick, 1992; Sanders, 2001). Alternative assessment models and methods promise to promote authentic, real world learning, and to provide a diversity of learning opportunities so students are able to display critical thinking skills and greater depth of knowledge, connect learning to their daily lives, develop a deeper dialog over the course material, and foster both individual and group oriented learning activities (Muirhead, 2002). Furthermore, alternative, authentic assessment models support assessment for learning rather than assessment for grading (Black & William, 1998). The concept of assessment for learning, emphasizes integrating assessment and instruction and requires a dynamic, continuous, and performance-based assessment system that emphasizes progress in learning (formative assessment) and in becoming increasingly sophisticated learners and knowers. Ideally, performances that are based on real-life activities become an integral part of the instructional cycle, and feedback provided by the teacher and peers is meant to be formative, that is, it is intended to help the student assess his or her strengths and weaknesses, identifying areas of needed growth and mobilizing current capacity. These performances are provocations for what needs to be learned and extensions of what is learned and can help push the student to the next level of skill in performance (NCREL, 1990; NAEP, 2007). The premises of performance-based assessment models, particularly their emphasis on pedagogical changes in teaching methods and in educational philosophy, continue to challenge educators in higher education and to call for radical reformulation of the basic assumptions of education and the role of assessment.

The emergence of distance education in the form of online or Web-based delivery has taken this challenge further and has added to its complexity and its ambiguity. Numerous studies over the past few years have sought to affirm that distance education is equally as effective (if not better) as face-to-face learning. Many studies have shown that there is no significant difference in the learning outcomes that occur in a distance environment versus face-to-face (e.g., Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, & Mabry, 2002; Bernard, Abrami, Lou, Borokhovski, Wade, Wozney, Wallet, Fiset, & Huang, 2004; Shachar & Neumann, 2003). While this may be so, there is not enough information about what is assessed in online courses compared with on site courses, and whether or not a full range of assessment strategies were compared. In other words, it is not clear if online instructors are using the full potential of online learning for assessment purposes to suggest that there is no difference in student learning in a distance environment compared to face-to-face.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Outcome: Describes the kinds of things that learners should know or can do after instruction that they did not know or could not do before.

Complex Learning Outcomes: Refer to integrated sets of learning goals—multiple performance objectives that emphasize coordination and integration of separate skills that constitute real-life task performance. In complex learning, the whole is clearly more than the sum of its parts because it also includes the ability to coordinate and integrate those parts (Van Merriënboer, Clark, & de Croock, 2002).

Alternative Assessment: Also referred to as authentic assessment, these measures often require direct examination of student performance using “real-world” tasks requiring complex thinking processes.

Artificial Intelligence: Is the branch of computer science concerned with making computers behave like humans. The term was coined in 1956 by John McCarthy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Authentic Performance Assessment: An authentic performance assessment is a from of assessment that requires students to demonstrate skills and competencies which realistically represent those needed for success in the daily lives of adults. Authentic tasks are worth repeating and practicing.

Rubric: A rubric is a rating system by which teachers can determine at what level of proficiency a student is able to perform a task or display knowledge of a concept.

Assessment Criteria: The statements that express in explicit terms how performance of desired learning outcomes might be demonstrated.

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