Dianne Conrad and Jason Openo are problem-solvers. If one were to prioritize all the problems, challenges, and disagreements that have become fodder in debates within formal education, assessment would top the list for both teachers and for learners. Therefore, this is an important text, relevant to teaching and learning at any level, context, or use of technological support. Even more interestingly, the authors have focused their discussion on the special challenges and opportunities associated with online learning.
It has become popular to recite enrolment figures showing consistent global increases in the number of learners taking online courses; the number of institutions running and credentialing these courses; and the number of teachers struggling and gaining experience and skills to work effectively in this digital context. However, e-learning or online learning is but a subset of ways that education can be, and has been, distributed for the past 100 years. And, while they are distance educators, both Conrad and Openo have teaching experience that pre-dates the ascendancy of the Internet. This book brings forward their personal experience and insight, while presenting significant data gleaned from the extensive database of research literature both old and new.
This is clearly an innovative scholarly work. And though some readers may feel overwhelmed by the number of references and quotations sprinkled throughout the text, the book flows nicely from establishing a broad theoretical basis for online learning, through the asynchronous discussion-based learning model, to highlighting promising techniques and practices including group work, as well as self- and peer-assessment. The text also provides insightful glimpses of the assessment issues that have arisen alongside emergent forms of online learning including blended learning, the flipped classroom, MOOCs, wikis and badges.
Assessment is a dominant issue in higher education. In the 1990s, I recall being thrilled about the establishment of a research centre focused on student assessment at the large research university where I worked. I was however disappointed when I attended a few seminars and read papers from this group, as they had focused on creating valid multiple-choice exam questions using item analysis and statistical modelling that had little application to my own teaching of graduate students. Thankfully, this book is not that type of book! What you will find is theory, research, and very practical advice about the forms of higher education that are based on constructivist—with perhaps just a hint of connectivist—pedagogy. Constructivist teaching and learning pedagogy has evolved into a dominant form of education in the social sciences and humanities. Thus, don’t expect tips on writing multiple-choice exams or learning analytics. However, you can expect very detailed discussions of the ways that learning can be assessed on individual and group levels, even as it is individually constructed in the minds and contexts of each learner.
There is much to recommend and a great deal of insightful knowledge in this text. It will appeal to practising teachers (even for those bound to classrooms); to professionals working as learning designers or developers to support teachers; and finally, to graduate students and online learning researchers. These latter two groups will no doubt use the text as a springboard to the many references and quotations that buttress and provide scholarly support to the ideas presented.
Finally, I’m thankful to the authors for publishing this text as an open access work. As the text highlights, we are entering an era of openness in scholarship. Since at least the 16th century, we have known of science and learning as a collaborative enterprise, which is best stated by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” There are many intellectual titans in our universities today; however, many of their best ideas, experiments and insights are locked behind paywalls erected by commercial publishers. This is especially vexing as many practising teachers, even in affluent countries, do not have access to complete scholarly libraries, and those working in developing countries have almost no opportunity to, as it were, see further. This situation has changed and continues to evolve as more institutions, publishers, and authors embrace and benefit from open access to scholarly works. This text proudly takes its place (along with the dozen other titles) in the Issues in Distance Education series from Athabasca University Press. As series editor, I thank the authors for choosing to publish this work as an open resource. I also here commend Athabasca University for supporting the Press and the many reviewers and professional editors who have contributed to the work. As readers, you actually have an opportunity to thank these folks yourself, by ordering (and paying for) a hard copy or e-text—even after you have read it for free!
Terry Anderson, Professor Emeritus