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Learning Assessments

Whether online/hybrid or face-to-face, assessment is a vital component of student learning since it encompasses a variety of methods used to collect, synthesize, and interpret information to aid in educational decision-making (Airasian, 2000). Assessments may be evaluative in nature (i. e., course grades), or instructional (adjusting instruction to improve student learning). Effective teaching utilizes meaningful and valid assessments and constructs alignment with learning objectives. An online environment offers several advantages and challenges when implementing assessment.

What follows are guidelines on how to create effective assessments (Gronlund, 1998):

  • Student outcomes are clearly communicated
  • A variety of assessment methods are utilized
  • Assessments are relevant and meaningful
  • Assessment procedures are fair
  • An adequate student sample of performances are required
  • Students get meaningful feedback regarding strength of performance
  • A comprehensive grading and reporting system (tests, etc.) must be utilized
  • Criteria for judging performance are clearly communicated in advance
  • Develop your student outcomes relative to Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • The six levels of cognitive outcomes are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation

The Assessment Process

Planning Assessments

Summative vs Formative

Summative assessment: These methods occur at the end of a unit of instruction, a term, or a course. Summative assessment determines the extent to which a student has demonstrated the learning outcomes for the purpose of making some kind of judgment or decision. It utilizes formal assessment methods, tests, quizzes, papers, and projects. Summative assessment falls into two categories:

Objective assessment typically utilizes items (multiple-choice, true/false, matching, short answer items) that have only one correct answer.

  • Performance assessment can measure higher levels of cognitive outcomes, such as application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Formative assessment: Conducted before or during the course in order to improve or adjust the course material, formative assessment provides students with feedback (immediate, if possible) so that they can adjust their own learning performance. Formative assessment methods may include both informal (non-graded performance) and formal methods (graded performance such as quizzes and other assignments). Formative assessment does not always need to be conducted by the instructor; self and peer assessments are also effective in providing feedback for improved learning. Methods of formative assessment in an online/hybrid course may include group discussion, posted reflections and allowing rewrites.

Align with Learning Objectives

Course assessments should evaluate how well students have mastered the objectives. These objectives should guide the choice and design of the assessments. The alignment between objectives and assessments is critical to ensuring a course is well designed.

Many types of activities can be used to assess student learning. When you select what kind of assessment activities or tools to use, it is helpful to consider the following questions:

  • What kind of activities or tools (essays, presentations, case studies) tell me about their level of competence on the learning objective?
  • How well the assessment of their work help guide students’ practice and improve the quality of their work?
  • How will the assessment outcomes guide my teaching practice?

Diversify Assessment Types

In assessing learning, it is important to create a “mix” of assessments that cover multiple approaches to learning. With online/hybrid courses in particular, traditional tests become a smaller part of the grade as you move towards encouraging student interaction on group projects and other activities.

Different types of assessments include:

Tests, Exams, Quizzes
Pre & Post Testing
Project Reports
Peer Reviews
Role Playing
Research Papers
Reflective Writing

Surveys, interviews and observations
Group discussion
Case studies
Reading responses

Running Assessments

Communicate Expectations

There should always be clarity when communicating course expectations regardless of the learning environment. However students in online/hybrid courses need concise, explicit information about course requirements and instructor expectations. Therefore, develop specific grading guidelines for assignments and activities ahead of time so students know in advance what is expected from them. For example, articulate what are appropriate responses to questions in online discussions, what is a substantive answer versus a superficial response, etc. Providing students with specific examples of the kinds of work you are looking for is helpful.

Participation and Collaboration


Give students credit for the substantive learning they can provide each other through discussions. This is important in all learning environments. For instance, in many online courses, these discussions are essential for achieving learning goals. By assigning credit for participation in discussions specifically, instructors can prevent “lurking”, where students listen to the conversation but do not participate.

Here are some tips for assessing online discussions.

  • Require students to participate in specific numbers of threaded discussions.
  • Have interactive learning activities (e.g. threaded discussion) account for a high percentage of course grade.
  • Identify the qualities you look for in discussions and grade students according to those criteria

Teamwork involves collaboration among students. However, students frequently express concern that not all members contribute equally when working in groups. Typically, an instructor will assess teamwork based on the final project instead of evaluating contribution from each student. Thus, by developing a transparent assessment process that assesses both individual and team based learning, student collaboration can be encouraged.

A couple of strategies to effectively assess teamwork in all learning modes are using student self evaluation and peer evaluation. Using the combination of product assessments and individual assessment can provide instructors with valuable information on how teams function and how to provide feedback and grading.

Grading Assessments


Scoring rubrics not only provide grading guidelines, but also explain what students are supposed to do in order to complete assignments. Researchers recommend using grading scales and rubrics that are assignment-specific and designed with criteria that are highly explicit. They can help students understand what is expected of them in the assignments, and provide more structure and reliability to the assessment process.

An effective rubric:

  • Lists characteristics that describe the performance
  • Applies a fixed scale that rates the quality of product
  • Communicates to students the expectations of quality performance
  • Helps teachers to be more accurate, unbiased, and consistent with grading
  • Can be used by students, peers, and instructors

In addition to grading criteria of assessment, a rubric can be used as a guideline for how students should approach assignments and projects. RubriStar is a great online tool to create grading rubrics.

Listed below are some sample grading rubrics for your use:

For more guidance on strengthening your assessments in face to face, online or hybrid environments, we encourage you to consult with our instructional designers. You can set up a one-on-one appointment with one of our Instructional Designers using the ITDS Appointment Scheduler.