In the world of learning outcome assessment (testing), things can get complicated in an online learning environment. The nature of the LMS (Learning Management System, such as Blackboard or Moodle) encourages the automation of assessments with tools like multiple choice and true/false question quiz banks. But before deciding on just how to use those assessment tools, it's best to think about and answer a few questions.
Do you want to use summative or formative assessment strategies with your learners? If you're not familiar with those terms, think of the question as a learner might. Would you rather that your grasp of the information being learned be evaluated at the end of the learning process, or at intervals throughout the process itself, to make sure that you are staying on track and not getting lost along the way?
The practice of assessing learning outcomes at the end of the learning process (whether we're talking a unit of curriculum or at the end of the course) is summative assessment. Using summative assessment, the instructor (and perhaps even the learner) might be unaware that there are problems or misperceptions on the part of the learner until its too late to remediate the process and ensure learner success.
Formative assessment, however, "checks in" with the learner at various points throughout the learning process to make sure that they are grasping the information being presented and synthesizing it appropriately. By checking in with the learner at various points along the way, the identification of learning obstacles occurs much earlier, while there's still time to get the learner back on track and ensure ultimate success.
It may daunting to an online instructor to think about increasing the frequency and depth of assessment efforts in courses that are being taught to what are likely increasingly larger student enrollments. That's quite a time commitment! However, the carefully considered use of self- and peer-assessment strategies can help both mitigate the level of instructor involvement as well as provide additional learning opportunities through self-reflection and collaborative peer-to-peer learning opportunities for learners.
There is a lot of information out there in the world of e-learning about the use of formative assessment (using self- and peer-assessment strategies) in online courses. Here's one journal article that lays out the basic concepts involved but still sticks closely to the traditional tools. It presents sound research that provides a rationale for using formative assessment in online learning environments.
While the traditional multiple choice quiz banks certainly have value as one component in an overall assessment strategy, I'd like to suggest that we all look at assessment with new eyes and think about ways that we can integrate reading, writing, critical thinking and new forms of expression into the assessment process in online learning environments. How can we inspire and document critical thinking and problem solving in our e-classrooms?
I will be on the lookout for both research in this area and more practical information and tools that help integrate formative assessment strategies into online course development. I am also launching an ASSESSMENT section of my blog resources to highlight the resources that I find. I welcome your input, questions and suggestions!