TLO 14: How to Teach Online: Assessing Online Learning II

Welcome to the 14th in this series of 16 TLO blogs. Last time, in TLO 13, we looked at some of the challenges of assessing online learning, based on a kind of “triangulated model,” with timeframes, quantity, and quality as three aspects of the online learning that can and should be assessed. In response to some of your e-mails asking for more details, I thought it would be helpful to look at the assessment aspect of TLO in more detail, as this does appear to be one of the aspects that is often not given as much thought as it should be given.

To be fair, this oversight is not by any means a unique feature of TLO programs and courses. The contents of many courses are created first, with assessment of learning outcomes coming later, sometimes as a “bolted-on” after-thought. This is partly the result of teachers being, understandably, more interested in teaching than testing, which makes assessment “guilty by association.” But that view has been changing over the years, especially as the notions of Assessment of Learning, Assessment for Learning, and Assessment as Learning have become more widespread.

So, beyond knowing and understanding the content, what other learning outcomes might we want to assess during a TLO course? As we discussed in TLO 13, the assessment needs to be both formative and ongoing, as well as summative and end-point. The formative, ongoing assessment occurs during the daily, weekly, and monthly learning that is an essential part of the assessment process. One of the ways of doing that is to assign “student hosts” each week.

The job of the hosts is to, first, initiate the discussion of a particular point, the completion of a specific task, etc. Second, the host should encourage the other course participants (CPs) to take part in the discussion and the tasks, as some participants may be reluctant, unsure or just shy, in which case, they will need encouragement not only from the course instructor, but also from their peers. Thirdly, the hosts can wrap up a particular activity by summarizing some of the main points that emerged during the discussion.

In many of the TLO courses that I have taught, the marks for participation include a mark for being effective, supportive, and professional hosts, as these are the kinds of skills that all teachers need, regardless of who, what, or where they are teaching. So, in terms of learning outcomes, in addition to content knowledge, CPs who can also be effective, supportive, and professional in an online environment are going to be more positively assessed.

Some of the other learning outcomes that should also be assessed on TLO courses include an ability to take responses, comments, and other kinds of input posted by other CPs and build on them, to enable the “collaborative, cooperative, co-construction of knowledge, skills and understanding” that we first discussed in TLO 4, and which was reiterated in TLO 13. Contributions to the discussions, the tasks, activities, etc. which show a heightened awareness of different linguistic and cultural frames of reference can also be reflected in the assessment process. Such input can be invaluable in helping to create cohesive TLO classroom communities, even when the CPs are so far removed, in time and space, from each other and from the instructor.

Another noteworthy and assessable aspect of the interaction is the sharing of resources. I’m always impressed by the CPs who not only always find recent, relevant, and freely-accessible teaching and learning materials online, but who are also willing to share those with the other CPs, without being asked. This is one of the benefits of criterion-referenced assessment, in which everyone can do well, versus norm-referenced assessment, in which only a certain, predetermined percentage or proportion of the learners can get an “A.”

So, in addition to the three parameters we discussed last time—timeframe, quantity, and quality—we can now add two more: “hosting” and “sharing,” to build-up a five-part assessment model. But this is, of course, not an exhaustive list. So, what would you or do you take into account, in addition to these five features, when assessing your students’ learning online?

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
Andy received his MA in Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching, and his PhD in International Education, both from the University of York in England, and he teaches TESOL courses online with the School of Graduate Education at Anaheim University, California. Over the years, he has written for TESOL Quarterly, TESOL Journal, TESOL Matters, and TESOL’s Essential Teacher. Andy will be installed as president-elect of the TESOL International Association in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and he will be president during TESOL’s 50th Anniversary Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in 2016.
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2 Responses to TLO 14: How to Teach Online: Assessing Online Learning II

  1. Andy Curtis Andy Curtis says:

    Thank you, Paul, for your feedback on these TLO blog postings and for your question. And my apologies for the less-than-clear comment on testing, assessment and ‘guilt by association’ in relation to TLO. What I meant was that, many of the teachers I work with feel, understandably, very negatively about commercial, large-scale, standardized tests. As a result, some of those teachers then shy away from classroom-based assessment, as such assessment can also generate the same kind of negativity. But large-scale, standardized testing and classroom-based assessment (of, for and as learning) are very different, and on-going, formative assessment is an essential part of TLO, even if there is no physical classroom. Also, given the importance of that kind of assessment in TLO, assessment of learning outcomes should be one of the starting points when designing a course, and not an afterthought, at the end of the course. I hope that clarifies my points, and thanks again for the feedback and the question.

  2. Paul Beaufait says:

    Thank you, Andy, for writing this extensive series of posts. I’ve read with keen interest your most recent posts on Assessing Online Learning, especially your remarks in the most recent post to date, Assessing Online Learning II (19 February 2014), regarding designating students to serve as discussion hosts and outlining possibilities for assessing unsolicited resource sharing.

    In that post, you seemed to be suggesting in general that assessment had been an afterthought for teachers “more interested in teaching than testing” (¶2). However, it was difficult to follow what came next–something along the lines of such teachers’ main interests in teaching making assessment guilty of something by association with something else, possibly with testing.

    I wonder whether you could shed some light on previous notions with regard to assessment that assessment of, for, and as learning may be challenging or displacing. I’d also appreciate hearing how guilt, which you’d flagged with quotation marks, fits into this perspective on previous and changing assessments of online learning. Thank you again for your consideration.

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