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?