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Developing Online Assessments

There are many ways to assess learners in an online course. Blackboard provides quizzes, exams, and assignment tools. You can also embed assessments right into your presentation materials!  NIU’s desktop videoconferencing tools allow you to use synchronous discussions and student presentations as powerful assessment tools as well.  It is important to provide multiple forms of assessment in your online courses, carefully considering the characteristics of each type of assessment in an online environment. 

Online chat or discussion

Just as you might facilitate a whole class discussion or several group discussions in a face-to-face class session, you can assess students in your online course by facilitating online discussion.  Two common online discussion activities are asynchronous (not online at the same time) discussions using Blackboard discussion forums and synchronous discussions using Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate.  There are also time saving methods built into Blackboard for grading these discussions. When facilitating either type of discussion, it is important to make clear your guidelines for quality and quantity of discussion in each discussion activity.

Written assignments

Written assignments (e.g. essays, reflections, research papers, technical documents) are an excellent way to assess student learning.  Blackboard provides several effective tools for providing students the feedback that is critical to your assessment of their progress and their improvement and learning.  There are also tools available that will allow you to detect academic misconduct such as plagiarism. 

Embedded quizzes

When using presentation tools such as Adobe Presenter, embedding quizzes into your presentation materials provides evidence that your students are not only viewing your presentations but it also checks for understanding as they move through the materials. Using a technology called SCORM , this embedded assessment can also be connected to Blackboard’s gradebook you can easily keep tabs on learning and evaluate the content you are delivering for improvements. 

Exams and quizzes

Blackboard exams and quizzes allow you to use these traditional assessment methods in your online course.  Many types of questions can be graded automatically by Blackboard using the information you provide while building the exam or quiz, which can save time for you and provide instant feedback for students.  However, because students are often taking these quizzes in an environment that might them to use other resources, such as the Internet, their texts, and even other people, it is more difficult in an online environment to rely solely on exams and quizzes as a measure of student learning outcomes.  Particularly when using the custom feedback functions of Blackboard, exams and quizzes can be viewed as another learning experience, an opportunity to experience the content of your course in a different way.  Blackboard includes several features that allow you to customize this experience, including time limits, custom availability, custom question banks, and question randomization. Additionally, online exam proctoring solutions are available to not only verify the identity of students prior to completing an online exam but also promote academic integrity while completing an online exam. These tools are generally not viewed favorably by students, however, because they require that students pay additional fees and can be seen as intrusive. It is recommended that proctoring be used only when necessary, and that high-stakes proctored exams are combined with other assessment types in the overall assessment plan of a course.

Student presentations

As you have likely experienced in your face-to=face classroom, student presentation of their work can be a powerful learning experience, allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of content, express creativity within the domain, build their communication skills, and provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer teaching and learning.  Using one of NIU’s desktop videoconferencing solutions, Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate, students can present work live just as they would in your face-to-face classroom.  Presentations can also be recorded, allowing you to assess students’ performance live or by reviewing the recording later. 

Additional recommendations

For high-stakes exams consider using a face-to-face proctored exam at one of NIU’s centers (Naperville, Hoffman Estates and Rockford) or use a testing service where the student pays to have a proctored exam session. This information would need to be posted ahead of time on your syllabus as an expense and requirement.