When reflecting on assessment, one often thinks of quizzes, mid-term exams, or final exams. In online instruction, tests are often the assessment of choice because of the automated systems for grading that saves time. In reflecting on your assessment of online courses, consider these questions:

  • Is assessment about grades or learning?
  • Have we effectively assessed every student learning outcome?
  • How can the assessment process enhance learning?

I once heard that assessment is the “zipper between teaching and learning”. We often think of assessment of learning but I would like to suggest: assessment is learning.

Norman E. Gronlund and C. Keith Waugh define assessment as:

A broad category that includes all of the various methods used to determine the extent to which students are achieving the intended learning outcomes of instruction.

If assessment includes all methods that assess student learning, then one needs to see the discussion forum as an effective means of assessing students’ understanding of the lesson content. An email, a phone or text conversation, a chat session can also be just as important as a quiz or a chapter review questions for assessing learning. I also heard from an unknown source that summative assessment (at the end of instruction) is like an autopsy but formative assessment (throughout instruction) is like a medical exam. If this is the case, then effective assessment that enhances learning is probably more of a conversation than an examination!

Here are a few practical things you can do in your online teaching to make assessment more effective for enhancing learning:

  • Respond quickly to students emails for clarification
  • Participate in the discussion forums
  • Provide substantial feedback on all student work

Effective assessment that enhances learning is time consuming and often requires more dialogue with students but it can result in significant learning. The impact on student lives will be more like a medical exam than an autopsy!


Pat Cross in Using Assessment to Improve Instruction , Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment: Western Washington University. http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/cii/resources/modules/assessment/ (accessed March 4,  2015).

Norman E. Gronlund and C. Keith Waugh, Assessment of Student Achievement, 9 th ed. (Upper Saddle River, : Pearson, 2009), 15.

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