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Mini-Course Topic: Assessing for Understanding in Online Courses


Learning Outcomes:

  • Participants will differentiate between low and high level questioning in assessments.
  • Participants will recognize the need for assessment for understanding in online courses.
  • Participants will reflect on the concept of understanding.

Needs Assessment/Learner Analysis

The problem being addressed:

My topic involves creating effective assessments for understanding in online courses. In my experience, online courses make heavy use of computer-graded questions (multiple choice, true/false, matching) due to teacher time constraints. Since students in online courses have access to the internet, as well as their course materials, asking low level content questions only finds out how well they can search the internet or look up the information in their textbook. These questions are easy to create, but do not show whether students understand the concepts.

Gathering information:

I used an online survey - - to assess the need for this mini-course. 6 out of 7 respondents teach online courses. The majority of respondents teach high school level courses, and do not believe that their assessments accurately assess students' understanding of the material. They indicated that their assessments use multiple choice questions most heavily, then short answer and essay questions. Interestingly, 6 out of 7 also indicated that they feel prepared and able to write assessments that effectively assess students' understanding, so there seems to be a gap between knowing and doing.

Revised intent:

Although respondents claim to be able to create effective assessments, the assessments in their courses aren't thought to accurately check for understanding. The survey shows that there is a need for further training of how to assess for understanding. Since the assessments rely heavily on multiple choice, it might be a good idea to include a section on how to write good multiple questions. My mini-course will also address the concept of understanding, and methods to check for understanding in online courses, including alternatives to the standard test methods.

Performance Objectives

  • Given an overview of the concept of understanding, the learner will state in their own words what constitutes understanding and how it applies to their own teaching situation.
  • Given examples of types of assessment questions, the learner will classify the questions by the thinking skills they require to solve them.
  • Given guidelines for creating effective multiple choice questions, the learner will demonstrate the procedure by writing a multiple choice question for their course.

Revised Performance Objectives

  • When asked by peers, the learner can state in their own words what constitutes understanding, how it differs from remembering, and give two examples of the difference between learning and understanding in their own teaching situation.
  • Given examples of types of assessment questions, the learner will classify the questions by the thinking skills they require to solve them.
  • Given a core concept that students need to understand, learners will be able to create an effective multiple choice question to assess student understanding, as well as describe strategies to provide feedback to promote understanding.
  • Given a core concept that students need to understand, learners will give examples of two authentic assessment methods that could be used in an online course to assess the concept.

Task Analysis

General prerequisites for this course:

Essential –

  • Visual processing skills
  • General understanding of assessment methods
  • Ability to read and respond to written text
  • Experience in a classroom as a student, teacher, or both

Supporting –

  • Motivation to proceed through course
  • Motivation to improve understanding of assessment methods
  • Experience with online teaching and/or learning

Specific prerequisites by unit:

Unit 1 - Understanding vs. Remembering

  • Classify concept of understanding
  • Classify concept of remembering
  • Discriminate between understanding and remembering

Unit 2 - Online courses and types of assessments

  • Discriminate between higher and lower level question types
  • Demonstrate classification of higher and lower level assessment questions according to Bloom's Taxonomy
  • Classify cognitive skills by Bloom's Taxonomy
  • Classify variety of types of assessment questions

Unit 3 - Traditional assessments in online courses

  • Demonstrate process of creating multiple choice question
  • Classify multiple choice as a choice of assessment question
  • Classify concept of feedback in assessments

Unit 4 - Authentic assessments in online courses

  • Classify alternative assessment methods in online courses
  • Classify concept of authentic assessment

Instructional Map


Course Outline

According to Krajcik and Blumenfeld (2006), problem-based learning includes a driving question, student exploration of an authentic problem, collaborative activities to find solutions to the question, scaffolding with learning technologies, and student-created products addressing the solution. I plan to start this course with a question, include opportunities for students to write and reflect, and have students create a product to address a solution to the question.

Unit 1

  • Essential question: How does remembering differ from understanding, and how can we assess for understanding in online courses?
  • Learner jots down ideas about what understanding and what remembering are
  • Short video about importance of understanding
  • Explanation of understanding vs. remembering
  • Learner revisits what they wrote and revises it using new knowledge from unit

Unit 2

  • Overview of types of assessment questions commonly used in online assessments
  • Image of Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • Explanation of relationship between Bloom’s Taxonomy and thinking skills required for types of assessment questions

Unit 3

  • Overview of multiple choice questions
  • Tips on how to use them to effectively assess understanding
  • Examples of correct and incorrect ways to use multiple choice questions
  • Using this information, learner develops a well-written multiple choice question `

Unit 4

  • Explanation of authentic assessments vs. traditional assessments
  • Examples of types of alternative assessments used in online courses
  • Using this information, learner will write two examples of alternative assessment methods for online courses, relevant to their courses

Resources and References

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