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Assessing Students

Learning rests on the foundation of practice and feedback. Without these two things, learning cannot happen. Sometimes feedback is as simple as having a bicycle wobble while you pedal to remind you how to stay upright, and other times it is as complicated as the GRE. However, between those two extremes, there are infinite numbers of ways to assess students so that they have the opportunity to practice and receive feedback. Here are the key features of a great assessment strategy:

Not only do practice opportunities allow you to know if your students are reading their textbook, but they also let you know what are the problem areas that exist for students, so you can provide some supplemental content around those areas. Starting off with low point value quizzes that are automatically graded is a great starting point for establishing your assessment strategy.

We understand that grading projects for a full class of students is a daunting task. To lower the number of items that you have to grade, use group projects. A fair number of student complaints around group work can be resolved by having groups check in with smaller graded items along the way such as project outlines, drafts, and so on, and creating group-based discussion boards that you pop into a few times a semester will also keep students on track.

Though students are not prepared to give the same level of feedback that a professor can, learning how to properly give feedback is an invaluable skill, and is also one that will make your grading load more manageable. Where basing grades on student feedback would be ill-advised, when given some basic direction on how to use a grading rubric and provide feedback that is directed towards achieving a learning objective, your students can become great allies in establishing good practice and feedback opportunities for one another.

A face-to-face course is filled with feedback: we provide eye contact, we smile, and we nod our heads. In an online setting, these implied interactions need to be made more intentional. Using a discussion board is a great start for making these interactions more intentional. What is the key part of having these succeed is making sure that you participate in them and provide some authentic praise for good ideas added to the discussion. Praise engages more intrinsic motivations than are available in other forms of feedback and will encourage more participation in students if you are balanced in your praise throughout your students since obviously, no one will be too motivated if you continue to praise one student without praising others. Using the Announcements tools as a place to call out great student work is a great place to provide feedback as well so that students receive a notification about your feedback.

Though having your students collectively generate a piece of scholarly content may not lower your grading load, it can lead to the creation of a substantial portion of the content you use in your class, lowering student costs, helping your students understand the process of creating real-world knowledge artifacts in a group contribution setting, and it also provides a model of what you think of a great work, so that your students don’t feel paralyzed in trying to impress you with their work.

Often times providing feedback that is directed squarely at achieving a learning objective is the best way to grade more efficiently. When combined with a website showcasing model projects, students will more clearly understand how to do work that conforms to your expectations, and you will be able to clearly differentiate between A-level and B-level work based on the criteria you set up.

Though we saved this for last, it is by no means the least important. We all need help with remembering when to do things. Our phones remind us of “Friends” birthdays, doctor appointments, and so on. Students deserve the same consideration, and using the Calendar tool in MyCourses will allow your students to always know when their assignments are due and plan accordingly. Also, MyCourses can be set up to send automatic reminders of all sorts of items, such as if a student has not logged into a course for a designated amount of time, or if they scored above a certain grade on a quiz or test. These intelligent agents can even be personalized to include your student’s first name so that it adds a personal touch to an automated conversation.

As you peruse the following pages, you will see how to achieve these aims using the tools available to you in MyCourses.

Based on iCollegeNow by Tracy Adkins; Crystal Bundrage; Kathleen Mapson; and Will Kerr. This site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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