Lesson 1: Principles of Online Assessment

Getting started with online assessment

Creating a new online course or converting a course from face-to-face to an online format can be a great opportunity to reflect on and strengthen your course assessments. Effective, rigorous assessments can be facilitated online. This module will guide you through the principles and practices of how to design high quality assessment tasks for your online course. 

What key terms do you need to know?

Assessment used as part of the teaching and learning process to provide feedback to both the instructor and the learner about progress toward the desired learning outcomes. Information gathered from formative assessment can help instructors plan subsequent learning activities. Ungraded quizzes and one-minute papers are examples of strategies that can be used for formative assessment.

Assessment that usually occurs at the end of a course of learning to determine the degree to which the articulated learning outcomes have been achieved. Capstone projects and final papers are examples of strategies that can be used for summative assessment.

An assessment guide that uses a set of criteria for evaluating an assessment task to create a matrix of descriptions of work at various levels. Effective rubrics can support student self-assessment, greater transparency in grading, and clear feedback to students.

The principles of good assessment apply across learning environments

Good assessment is part of course design

Good assessment is part of a comprehensive course design to support student learning. Assessment strategies should be clearly aligned with the learning outcomes and teaching strategies of the course. Course activities provide opportunities for students to practice the knowledge and skills that will be assessed as well as to check their current understanding. 

Good assessment reflects the discipline

Good assessment reflects the actual work of the discipline/field. Authentic assessment involves engaging students in the big questions that your discipline seeks to address and asks students to begin to use their knowledge in ways consistent with the norms of the discipline. For example, law students learn how to do case studies. Biology students learn how to design labs and write lab reports. History students learn to analyze primary sources and write essays. 

Fair assessment practices are transparent

Fair assessment practices are transparent, providing students with clear expectations and communication. Instructors support equitable learning situations when they are explicit about what students are expected to learn, how they are expected to demonstrate their learning, and what criteria are being used to assess their learning. Providing a clear rationale for assessment strategies helps motivate students, and providing clear criteria supports the development of increasingly accurate self-assessment. 

Good assessment strategy includes different methods

A good assessment strategy includes a variety of methods and includes some degree of student choice. Using different assessment strategies allows students to hone their skills of demonstrating their learning in different ways. Offering some choice in assessment topics, tasks or task weights encourages students to take greater ownership of their learning while still focusing on the intended course learning outcomes. 

Effective assessment includes constructive feedback

Effective assessment includes feedback that is timely, specific, and action-oriented. Feedback is most meaningful when it helps students understand how they can use to strengthen future demonstrations of their learning. Not all assessments need to be formally graded, and not all feedback needs to come from the instructor. Peer- and self-assessment on rough drafts or early demonstrations of learning can be effective if they are based on a common set of criteria or rubric. 

Thoughtful assessment promotes academic integrity

Thoughtful assessment strategies promote academic integrity. Designing meaningful assessment tasks that align with learning outcomes, articulating clear expectations and assessment criteria, and providing students with actionable feedback can help mitigate against issues like plagiarism. 

Additional resources

The following TI guide builds upon an extensive literature review to present 19 research-informed principles for guiding assessment of student learning in diverse postsecondary contexts.

This document from Charles Darwin University explores core principles of effective assessment and provides a checklist for quality in student assessment.

Lesson checklist

  • Become familiar with key terms 

  • Review the guiding principles for good assessment 

  • Check out additional resources 

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