Course Assessment Practices and Student Learning Strategies in Online Courses

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Course Assessment Practices and Student Learning Strategies in Online Courses


Perhaps the most promising and understudied aspect of online education is course assessment. Course assessment is important because it has a strong impact on learning and is an indicator of the quality of learning occurring in a class. In the online environment, methods of assessment can be very different. However, the online education literature is currently lacking empirical data about the general status of assessment practices or how those practices relate to student learning. This article lays the groundwork for future studies by providing a description of formative and summative assessment and learning strategies in 60 online courses and suggesting some ways that assessment practices lead to different types of learning. In this study, instructors appear to follow effective practice by using multiple and alternative assessment methods, dispersing grades over time, and providing timely and frequent feedback to students. Students report focusing on relatively more complex learning strategies, such as elaboration and critical thinking over rehearsal. However, online instructors need to ensure that assessments are used strategically and that feedback is productive and able to be acted upon by students.

Course Assessment, Summative Assessment, Formative Assessment, Learning Strategies, Critical Thinking



In the online environment, the lack of physical space and face-to-face contact between instructors and students leads to different ways of assessing learning in a class. Online, the instructor cannot tell whether the student is in attendance unless he or she is actively contributing something to the virtual class. As a result, online instructors grade for participation, typically assigning between 10 and 25% of the course grade for discussions participation [1]. To prevent dishonesty as well as to create a learner-centered environment, students are typically awarded grades based on a variety of assignments, quizzes, papers, tests, group projects, and discussion contributions [2]. Grading also occurs throughout a class, rather than at one or two points in a term. This increased emphasis on continual and alternative assessment methods has great potential to increase the transparency of the learning process and improve learning. Classroom assessment is important because it has a strong impact on learning. The way an instructor approaches assessment influences the way students perceive the class, the material for study, and their own work [3]. Most importantly, assessment practices influence students by directing their attention to particular aspects of course content and by specifying ways of processing information [4]. Students concentrate their efforts towards whatever content or cognitive skills they believe will be tested [5, 6]. So not only does assessment influence what content students spend time learning, but also the type of learning occurring. Different forms of assessment encourage different types of learning [7, 8, 9]. Even the


Course Assessment Practices and Student Learning Strategies in Online Courses form of an exam or essay question can affect how students study [10]. In the online environment specifically, it has already been shown that the nature of online discussion questions [11], or the emphasis on grading criteria [12], can influence the type and quality of online discussion responses. One way of exploring the type and quality of student learning is through the cognitive processes students use to study, called learning strategies. Learning strategies are the specific cognitive activities and thought processes that students undertake when studying for a class, such as underlining text, making an outline, or applying knowledge to a new situation....
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