Assessment can be considered one of the many challenges when designing and delivering a module: how do you find enough teaching time to cover all of the learning outcomes and assess them to ensure the module is constructively aligned? To follow, there is the intense period of marking to ensure timely delivery of grades and feedback following the assessment deadline.
On the flip side, students are faced with the task of studying and handling multiple assessment deadlines or revising for exams which are often clustered together – “assessment overload” – in other words.
So how can technology and a blended learning approach help?
After all, if technology is being used to support blended delivery of learning materials, then why not use it to deliver and manage assessment? Russell et al. (2006, p495) state that an online learning environment “enables assessment to contribute to learning – through its potential to support collaborative learning, and through facilitating high quality feedback between teachers and students”.
Here are a few ideas on how you might use technology to support assessment and integrate it within an online environment.
Embed Formative Tests Throughout
Consider creating and delivering a series of formative digital assessments throughout a module to better engage students, consolidate their knowledge and help them to prepare for summative assessment.
The Tests tool in Blackboard, for example, allows you to easily create accessible, interactive tests with various question types. Features such as question and answer randomisation, time limits, and the ability to draw questions randomly from a pool based on categories or question difficulty (which can be assigned to questions) can ensure that students taking a test together (or for the second or third time) will never receive the exact same questions.
What’s more, automated grading and immediate adaptive feedback means a student can evaluate their attempts, identify areas of weakness and guide further study. Question feedback can signpost a student to further related resources (either within your module or elsewhere).
By using the adaptive release rules in Blackboard you can choose to release more advanced tests to those who achieve a certain score in more basic tests.
Some “question types” in Blackboard are mobile compatible too, which means students can take mobile compatible tests on their mobile devices anywhere, anytime. This “imparts a sense of control over the pace and timing of learning and promotes independent learning skills” (Effective Assessment in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback, JISC, p34).
Consider Automated Summative Assessment
Following on from the above, using an automated test on Blackboard for summative assessment can vastly reduce marking time when dealing with large numbers of students. Again, automated grading for certain question types and immediate feedback eliminates the need for students to wait for their results. You can choose to publish results immediately upon test completion or specify a date on which they are released.
Translating a paper-based exam to an online assessment may require investment of time initially; complex questions required by some subject areas (mathematics, for example) often need adjusting so that they are compatible with the technology, but ultimately, in the long run, time will be saved and student performance in assessment may even increase.
Using an e-portfolio tool, such as Portfolio@Tees, powered by Mahara and accessed from the portfolio tab in Blackboard, can be a useful way of assessing students both formatively and summatively. An e-portfolio is essentially a collection of artefacts which can evidence learning, skills, attributes or competencies and demonstrate achievements.
It can also be used to support and record continuous personal growth and learning through reflective practices. According to Van Sickle et al, 2005, p497, “the use of e-portfolios in assessment increases student reflection”, while Corwin & Nickelson claim that “their use helps students to become more active and take a greater role in assessment and their own learning as a whole”.
Development of professional skills and attributes can be enhanced with the use of an e-portfolio and therefore it could be a valuable assessment tool in modules which focus on this area. It is worth considering how e-portfolios can enhance student employability and what you could build into assessment in order to help students showcase relevant skills and experience which might give them the ‘edge’ over other candidates.
The ability to comment on e-portfolios allows students to engage in a feedback dialogue with their tutor and can help in further enhancing their assessment performance.
Students on work placements could use e-portfolios to reflect and explore links between their theoretical knowledge and their experiences while on work placement.
Using e-portfolios for assessment can also help in widening participation by assisting non-traditional applicants in identifying their aspirations by goal-setting, planning and recording evidence of their attainments.
Assess Asynchronous Activity
Students can engage with asynchronous tools such as discussion boards, blogs, journals and wikis in their own time, outside of the classroom environment. Such tools provide the opportunity for students to interact with one another; they emphasise the importance of peer-to-peer interactions.
Wikis offer a solution for groups to collaborate if you are assessing group-based work. Blogs and journals can be used for assessing traditional teaching practices such as individual reflections on learning, but instead of being paper-based, they are embedded within an online environment, thus offering students more flexibility and creativity.
Participation in online discussion can also be assessed. What’s more, asynchronous discussion tools can be used in classroom assessment to determine “what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning” (Angelo & Cross, 1993, cited in Vonderwell et al. 2007, p310). This could help when it comes to identifying those learners who are struggling or when evaluating your module for future delivery.
Exactly how you assess asynchronous discussions is important though; several studies have been conducted to examine how asynchronous discussion can be used in the assessment process of online or “blended” learning. Many observe that structure is an essential factor in the design, implementation and assessment of asynchronous discussions, whilst some studies indicate that discussion interface can significantly influence the quality and quantity of interactions by students. Obviously assessment criteria must be aligned to the learning outcomes but should also guide students in the process to reach the discussion goal (Vonderwell et al., 2007, p322).
Screencasts with Tests
The term “flipping the classroom” has been thrown around for several years and an example of putting this into practice is by producing “screencasts” (sometimes called tutorial casts or lecture casts) which combine audio, webcam recording and some learning materials such as presentation slides, into a single video.
They can provide an engaging experience in both distance and traditional learning settings. Tools such as Office Mix allow you to integrate tests in screencasts meaning you can align formative assessment with learning materials, giving students the opportunity to test and consolidate their knowledge in chunks.
With the “flipped” approach, classroom time can be spent more productively and focus on helping students with areas that they struggle the most. Analysis of performances in embedded tests through online analytics can help to identify these areas.
Peer evaluation is a powerful technique for large numbers of students and can help in generating more timely feedback as well as reducing your workload. It also encourages “deep learning” since in order to properly assess the work of their peers, students need to have a good understanding of the assessment criteria and the assignment task (Hughes, 1995, pp 39-43).
One solution for peer evaluation is to use Google Forms to gather student peer feedback. The forms can be easily embedded into Blackboard and results are stored directly in a Google Sheet which can then be exported for analysis. This also enables quick distribution of feedback which can help to increase student attention and motivation in class.
Gordon, P.A. (2010) ‘Using e-Portfolio as a Reflective Assessment Tool’. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/e4_using_e-portfolio_as_reflective_assessment_tool.pdf [Accessed 19 June 2016]
Hughes, I. E. (1995) ‘Peer assessment of student practical reports and it influence on learning and skill acquisition’, Capability, 1, pp. 39-43.
JISC (2011) ‘Effective Assessment in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback’. Available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearning/digiassass_eada.pdf [Accessed 19 June 2016]
Russell, J., Elton, L., Swinglehurst, D., & Greenhalgh, T. (2006) ‘Using the online environment assessment for learning: A case study of a web-based course in primary care’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(4), pp. 465–478.
Van Sickle, M., Bogan, M. B. and Kamen, M. (2005) ‘Dilemmas faced establishing portfolio assessment of preservice teachers in the southeastern United States’, College Student Journal, 39(3), p497.
Vonderwell, S., Liang, X. and Alderman, K. (2007) ‘Asynchronous Discussions and Assessment in Online Learning’, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3) pp. 309-328.