Five Tips for Making the Most of Online Assessments

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Online assessments have very similar goals to traditional pencil and paper assessments; to find out what students know what they understand, and how well knowledge and understanding have improved with instruction.  There are some key differences, however, in effectively creating and using computer-based or online assessment tools as opposed to traditional methods.  Here are some important considerations in taking full advantage of online assessments.

Use Assessments Before, During, and After Instruction

One of the biggest advantages to online assessment is, once created and deployed, they are much less time-consuming to use because they are evaluated and results calculated automatically.  That means an educator can give more assessments during a course period without taking time away from important duties like developing materials and activities.

To really know what students are learning and the effectiveness of learning methods, then waiting to access learning when instruction is over isn’t the best approach.  Learning assessment includes understanding what students know before hand and checking during the process to see if any corrections or adjustments in instruction are needed in order to achieve goals.  The time saving nature of online assessments allows instructors to take advantage of more frequent assessments.

Learn Methods to Assess Multiple Levels of Learning

The first level of learning is subject knowledge, but real assessment goes beyond that.  Just because a student can give the right answer doesn’t mean they really understand it, or that they are able to apply it in real life.  Good assessment measures learning across dimensions beyond surface knowledge.  A more in-depth assessment can be accomplished by asking questions in different ways, using examples or scenarios in questions, or by asking students to explain concepts using their own language and terms.

This may have been a little easier to accomplish in the days of pencil and paper tests with first-hand grading and evaluation.  It can be more difficult when using an automated on-line assessment approach, yet it is just as important.  Take the time to master using on-line assessment tools like rubrics to ask and evaluate beyond basic knowledge.

Take Advantage of Instantaneous Feedback to Encourage Learning

While the ultimate goal of assessment is to measure learning, an important secondary goal is to encourage and motivate students to learn.  That means asking questions in a way that not only measures knowledge and understanding, but also makes students curious.  The ability of online assessment to provide instantaneous feedback to responses is a great asset in achieving this goal.  Customize feedback and follow-up questions depending on responses, or give additional questions according to answers to see if the explanation was helpful.  Take advantage of the ability to link to videos, Tumblr pages, and other online content that students might find engaging and relatable as well as informative.  Plus, simply getting immediate feedback to a wrong answer with an explanation can engage a student more than their having to wait days or even weeks to find out if they got the answer right.

Understand the Varied Access to Technology

One great thing about using on-line assessment is that students can do them anytime or anywhere.  However, a big problem with on-line assessment is that students can do them anytime or anywhere.  Let’s set aside issues related to cheating for now, although this is obviously a common concern for students taking assessments without supervision. Another cause for concern is the equal opportunity for students to complete the assessment.  Students have different access to technology and environments to use it.  For example, some students may have the newest computer and the fastest Internet connection, while others may have an outdated PC that constantly locks up and must seek public WiFi for Internet access.  Some students may have their own rooms with their own computers where they can take assessments in peace and quiet, while others have to use computers in rooms with noisy, disruptive siblings or family members.

 While there are no easy solutions to problems of access, an awareness of how these issues can affect on-line assessment is an important first step.  For courses where on-line assessment is a critical component, instructors often give anonymous technology surveys to early on to evaluate disparities in student’s ability to complete assessments outside the classroom, then take steps accordingly.

Use a Range of Assessment Tools

While on-line assessments are a great tool to create quizzes and tests, they should only be one component in a larger assortment, especially if they are part of the grading schema.  Overall, online exams and testing should include a range of methods that allow different intelligences to shine in different ways, including ones that don’t involve computers (if possible).  One student may be great at answering multiple choice questions while another student does better in face to face interactions while yet another may do best if they can sketch out their understandings in a diagram.  Use online assessment tools as one part of the puzzle, but don’t rely on them exclusively.

Using Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) including online assessment is becoming standard education practice.  Knowing these tips can help you make the most of this valuable learning asset.

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