Appropriate assessment is the key to ensure students are reaching course objectives. Without assessment, students and instructors alike would not know whether what is being taught is being learned. Assessment of learning can happen on a number of levels and for a variety of purposes. Determining what is being assessed and why allows instructors to more carefully align learning objectives, activities and tools to pinpoint where each student's strengths and weaknesses are. With the growth and availability of technology, assessment for learning in distance education has taken on a whole new dimension. What previously remained shrouded by physical distance between learners and instructors is no longer an issue. It is of paramount importance that a variety of assessments methods and tools are used to ensure that all students are able to see where they stand in relation to the objectives. Over reliance on any one method of feedback may cause instructors and students to miss out on areas where growth could be achieved. Tools to create quizzes, promote reflection, make connections, build learning communities, encourage creativity and allow students to become the producers of information, rather than just the consumers, have helped distance education become an effective and reliable means of learning.
Historical Fiction uses a variety of assessment methods throughout the course including quizzes, discussions, self assessment, essays, skills practice and peer review. Most assessments are formative in nature, carrying low point values. Because I am working with high school students, the motivation to complete assessments that are not somehow attached to their grade is lacking. For that reason, each activity and assessment students complete will be evaluated. At the end of the course, a larger summative assessment is used (Final Project) but that too is broken down into smaller formative assessments as they work on it. By allowing students to work on skills and knowledge in smaller doses with feedback as they go, I feel that students will be less threatened by the activities and assessments, and will gain more from the feedback provided. By providing a variety of ways to interact with the course content, I am able to reach more learners in an area where they may excel.
Discussion Forums are an integral part of eLearning. They allow participants to interact with new information, their instructors and their peers. As an instructor, it is important to moderate the discussion forums to deepen understanding, clear up misconceptions, applaud work well done, and referee disagreements. I use discussion forums in a number of ways when I teach in an eLearning environment, be it fully online or a blended model. I use discussion forums as my number one means of assessment for students. Carefully constructed questions ensure that students are participating with the course materials on a deeper, more critical level than rote memorization.
Quizzes and Surveys
Assessment takes many forms in education, from formal to informal, formative to summative. Each type of assessment has its benefits and drawbacks, for both the instructor and the learner. One form of assessment that is easy to implement in eLearning is the use of a quiz or a survey. The reason these are easy to use is that they are easy to score and provide immediate feedback to students. Quizzes should really only be used for specific types of learning assessment. Creating a valuable quiz that assesses understanding, rather than rote memorization and recall, can be difficult and time consuming. I fully expect that students will use their notes and the internet to find answers. In anticipation of that, I try to create questions that do not have a direct answer in the readings, but require some thought to determine the correct answer.
Self Assessment, Peer Review and Reflection Reflection and self assessment is a huge part of learning in any form. Keeping a reflective journal helps learners to create meaning for themselves in their own private space, while self assessment practices ask students to look at their own work and determine where they still need growth. Much of the self assessment I ask students to do relies on utilizing rubrics, and providing evidence of how they met each objective. This is both a self assessment activity, and a reflection activity as they justify to themselves why their work has met or exceeded objectives, and where growth can still occur. I also ask students to participate in Peer Review, which asks them to consider the work of their peers, and apply rubrics to determine where the work falls. This type of activities allows them to apply the knowledge they have gained by looking for evidence of it in the work of others. It also allows them the opportunity to learn from each other as they see different ways an objective can be met.