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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Online Assessment: To Measure or Not to Measure

Assessment, both formative and summative is an important part of education. Unfortunately, distance education programs currently often lack appropriate strategies to test their effectiveness, which is one of the principle reasons for using formative assessments (Lockee et. al., 2002). It is essential that we consider ways to evaluate the effectiveness of online programs to ensure learning objectives are being met. 

Instructional design processes call for the development of assessment strategies early in the planning stages of a learning unit, whether online or face-to-face (Morrison et. al, 2011). Developing assessments along with your learning objectives can help you clarify what you want learners to learn, and can help you find appropriate ways to ensure your instruction is effective in meeting these objectives.

While it is necessary to measure the effectiveness of online courses, it is not always necessary or even productive to measure the effectiveness of every activity performed by students in an online environment. When attempting to measure student performance, some elements of online learning are difficult to score. So much goes on in online education, scoring all of it can be a monumental task. Bonk (2010) cautions listeners against attempting to grade everything students do online. While some tasks lend themselves to automated scoring, such as objective tests, constructed-response activities including blogs, discussion boards, and written assignments currently require human intervention to score (Saint-Germain, 2009). This type of assessment requires construction of a rubric to measure student performance. Scores are still often very subjective in nature. Bonk (2010) suggests alternatives to time-intensive grading of every such activity. Scoring of discussion board activity, for example, might simply be a participation grade. Students receive points for doing the activity, regardless of quality. Other scores might be based on a mixture of quality and quantity. Students expect and even demand feedback on their performance. When you do choose to score an online activity, be sure to supply meaningful feedback along with the score.

Effective online instruction will have built-in assessment measures to ensure the course is effective at meeting learning objectives, but effective online educators cannot and should not spend all their time scoring student activities for the sake of assigning a grade. It could be argued that new learning methods call for new educator strategies, and perhaps the time for measuring student performance by a score. Online education provides the opportunity for students to document learning through other means, such as through an ePortfolio or wiki site. Colleges and prospective employers can review such indicators to see a student’s growth over time, and these methods provide a much greater insight into the depth and diversity of a student’s learning experiences than a transcript of grades could every provide.


Bonk, Curtis (2010). Assessing Student Online Learning. Indiana University. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from

Lockee, Barbara, Moore, Mike, and Burton, John (2002). Measuring Success: Evaluation Strategies for Distance Education. Educause Quarterly. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from

Morrison, G., Ross, S., Kalman, H., and Kemp, J. (2011). Designing Effective Instruction. John Wiley & Sons, NJ.

Saint-Germain, Michelle (2009). Assessment Quickies #6: Matching Assessment to Teaching and Learning. California State University. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from

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