Assessment in the Online Classroom: A Critical Review of Two Major Strategies – Online Quizzes/Tests and Discussion Boards

Assessment in the Online Classroom: A Critical Review of Two Major Strategies – Online Quizzes/Tests and Discussion Boards

Mark Patrick Ryan (Loyola Marymount University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0347-7.ch009
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This study used quantitative and qualitative data from more than 500 online learners who took secondary, undergraduate, and graduate level online courses during the period 2010 through 2014 and who provided feedback on multiple iterations of those two assessment forms during that period. Data from twelve online course instructors' perceptions were also gathered. Findings include recommendations that instructors of online courses plan discussion board prompts that are narrow in scope, require use of course materials, and are closely monitored by the instructors throughout the posting process. Online quizzes and tests should, whenever possible, allow students immediate access to feedback and results, as such feedback is very well received by students. Various important lessons for online instructors and course planners are shared.
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Online education has at least some of its roots in 1960’s efforts to link learners with professors remotely at the University of Illinois, but really began in earnest in the late 1980’s when a handful of universities started online-only programs and a number of larger business entities started online training programs to maximize efficiency and minimize expense. Correspondence schools run by the U.S. military and educational institutions were also a precursor to what became online education. As institutions began to see benefits of online education, certain paradigms became commonplace in the methods of delivery. Two of those were online quizzes/tests and discussion boards, both of which have become commonplace assessment methods. Most online instructors now use one or both of these methods (in addition to other methods) to evaluate online learners’ mastery of course learning objectives.

Online quizzes and tests generally fit into the same two categories as traditional pen/paper assessments – forced/fixed choice questions and performance-based tasks. In a forced or fixed choice question, the instructor asks the student to choose between answers such as lettered choices “A through E” or True/False or matching terms with a numbered/lettered list of definitions. In traditional pen/paper assessments, students write or bubble their choice. In the online version, they select from one or more of several computer “buttons” with the answer choices. As is the case with traditional forms of forced choice/fixed choice assessment, these online tests and quizzes allow an instructor to quickly gauge the extent to which a learner understands key course terms and has memorized essential declarative knowledge (knowledge answered with simple one or several word answers).

Performance-based assessments involve such tasks as writing paragraphs or essays, creating a poster, drawing and labeling an image, giving a speech, participating in a debate, or any similar task requiring a demonstration of knowledge and skill in a more authentic setting. On the computer, such performances can include responding to writing prompts, creating an audio file of a speech, using drawing tools to create and label an image, or any of a number of other computer-based performances. Performance measures such as an essay, speech, debate, or other authentic performance allow instructors to gauge student mastery of skills rather than factual knowledge. As such, they are generally measuring higher order thinking skills (evaluation, analysis, synthesis) as opposed to lower order thinking measured on forced choice or fixed choice assessments.

Discussion boards originally were designed as the alternative to in-class discussions. In a typical face-to-face classroom, teachers would lead discussions and student participants would engage with colleagues and the instructor in back-and-forth question/answer and debate about given topics. In the online forum, discussion boards usually involve an instructor-created written prompt to which students respond. Their responses are visible to the entire class, and students then have the opportunity to respond in writing to their colleagues. Over the course of the last two decades, discussion boards have become more complex and creative, sometimes involving video or audio responses, live interactive video-based discussions where participants can see and hear all other members of the group, and scheduled synchronous discussion sessions in which participants simultaneously go online and participate in live chat sessions with the instructor and/or other members of the class.

Both of these assessment methods (online quizzes and tests and discussion boards) are generally now managed on what is known as a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS is an online software program that enables an instructor to post course documents and files, manage grading of students, conduct course activities such as online discussions, administer online quizzes and tests, and manage course enrollment, among other things.

The present study examined the opinions of 512 online learners whose online-only courses involved online quizzes/tests and discussion boards, as well as the perception data from 12 online instructors. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analyzed to consider how productivity and efficiency might be enhanced for online instruction.

This chapter’s objectives are to share the findings of the study with regard to online quizzes/tests and discussion boards and give course planners and online instructors ideas about how these two assessment strategies might best be employed when teaching online courses.

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