Unit 4 - Alternative Assessment Methods in Online Courses


Alternative Assessments

Knowingcheck.jpgAlthough multiple choice (and other selected response) questions are widely used, they do not allow the student to critically interact with the knowledge (Fellenz, 2004). There are alternative assessment methods in which students can more effectively use higher cognitive levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. According to Rovai (2000), to best assess student learning, assessment should occur frequently and with varied methods. Essays, projects and portfolios are some authentic methods to check for student understanding.

Portfolios of work and reflection, assembled and created throughout several lessons or units, can show the growth, creativity and knowledge of the student. The process can be time consuming, for the student (creating) and the teacher (grading), but this can be a valuable and authentic way of chronicling student growth. The student can reflect on their growth, identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and 'own' their learning process (Stansberry and Kymes, 2007).

Essays can ask students to expand on their thoughts on a subject, or to explain a concept in their own words. In addition to questioning certain content, they can also contain standards for grammar and spelling, as well as length.

Knowingclick.jpgTo read more about alternative assessment techniques and rationale, click on this link.

Alternative Assessment Methods

Knowingcheck.jpgHere is a list of alternative assessment methods, according to the Oklahoma State University Institute of Teaching and Learning Excellence:

  • essays (submitted by email or discussion posting)
  • reports
  • research projects
  • case studies
  • online threaded discussions (students answer assigned questions and comment on others' posts)
  • self-assessment (via instant feedback quizzes and tests)
  • presentations (student production of PowerPoint presentations or Web pages)
  • video projects
  • podcasts
  • writing (chapter summaries, literature reviews and other writing)
  • group projects
  • collaborative writing
  • Web logs (students record and reflect on their activities, questions, and outcomes online. Web logs are also called online/electronic journals.)
  • e-portfolios (assess students online deliverables)
  • student peer review

Issues in Online Assessment

Knowing plagiarism.gif

Knowingcheck.jpgThere are challenges with some alternative assessment methods that can make it difficult to properly gauge student understanding and performance. One issue is plagiarism, which is made easier with the student's access to the internet. Using varied assessment methods can help deter plagiarism. The teacher might notice a sharp change in performance from one assessment to the next, indicating a potential issue. If a submission seems suspicious, the teacher can put a phrase into a search engine and potentially find the source.

With language courses, online translators can be a problem. Students can put an entire sentence or paragraph into a translator and just copy and paste the answer. Fortunately the translators are generally not sophisticated enough to create plausible translations, and will use odd vocabulary that can signal potential plagiarism. The teacher can put the sentence into the commonly used translators, such as Google Translate, to check for this issue.

One of the best ways to combat plagiarism issues in online assessments is to use projects and case studies that can be individual to the learner, warranting individualized responses. This is not always possible though, and a course will normally have a mix of selected and extended response assessments throughout. For selected response questions, it is best to have enough questions available for a large pool of questions, so students are getting unique tests.

Apply What You Learned

Knowingquestion.jpgConsidering what you now know about alternative assessment methods, think of two methods you could use in your own courses or teaching experience. How would you use them, and why do you think they would be effective?


Knowingcheck.jpg Assessing learning online presents unique opportunities and challenges. The goal is to assess for understanding and other higher cognitive skill levels, which is possible if the assessment methods are properly executed. Selected response questions are often used, and when written properly can be fairly effective. A combination of selected response and alternative open response assessment methods will be the best way to assess learning at several skill levels, though. Use the methods that work best for your courses, your content, and your students, and keep in mind the learning goals as well as the cognitive levels of your questions.

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