If we wish to discover the truth about an educational system, we just look into its assessment procedures. (Rowntree, 1977, p. 1)
Assessment. Evaluation. Grading. Do these terms equate simply to “judgment”? To success or non-success? For many learners, and also for many teachers and administrators, they do. But should they? We take the position that discussions of assessment or evaluation should not connect, on first principles, to the stringencies of judgment but rather to the potential of learning.
This is by no means a novel position. Learning theories have long embraced assessment as a central actor in the cycle of learning. However, the introduction and pervasive growth of distance education—specifically online learning or e-learning—in the last several decades has opened new doors for old questions about assessment: Why does learning require assessment? What kinds of assessment best honour and respect the learner? And the newer, distance-related questions: What kinds of assessment can measure learning activity that occurs at a distance? Can traditional forms of assessment continue to serve us well? (And its tacit corollary question: Did traditional forms of assessment ever serve us well?)
This book will not help you to construct a test or an exam. We will not elaborate on the affordances of technology or the intricacies of the hardware or software that support online learning. We do not discuss institutional assessment, or course or program evaluation; we deal only with the assessment of learning. Within that, we restrict our discussion to higher education, and, within that, we do not address the complexities of teaching and learning in the hard sciences.
The 2010 JISC Effective Assessment in a Digital Age report recently indicated that,
despite potential benefits, adoption in higher education of the more complex opportunities made possible by technology is variable. Without departmental champions to support implementation, take-up of the more challenging aspects of e-assessment, especially in the context of summative assessment, has been slow. (p. 7)
In this volume, our objective is to discuss the assessment of online learning in higher education in meaningful and authentic ways. We are guided by constructivist philosophy and are concerned with the breadth and depth of assessment approaches, strategies, and techniques in the humanities and social sciences. While those who are engaged in more scientific fields may find useful material in these pages, we recognize that their areas of instruction employ, of necessity, alternative forms of assessment and evaluation.
Certainly, we hope that the material herein will be useful to teachers engaged in online teaching and learning, as well as those who would like to become involved in online teaching but are either hesitant or have not yet been given the opportunity. We feel that course designers and developers, as well as those involved in any way with curriculum, learning outcomes, or learning strategies, or those creating learning materials of any sort, will benefit from this read. We hope that graduate students interested in online learning and assessment or issues of quality, will find the book useful. Those who are engaged in online training in business and industry environments might also benefit. And, of course, we would like our colleagues and scholars in the field to explore these pages and make some use of them.
Structure and Organization
The book starts with a “big picture” framework that locates issues of assessment within the context of online learning, beginning with an overview of history, theory, definitions, and presenting a discussion of issues both underlying and concerning online assessment. There are many. We examine online learning’s evolution from basic pedagogical principles, and we address questions of pedagogy and epistemology, of guiding philosophies, and of the nature of online learning so as to establish a framework for the assessment discussion. Assessment itself includes the logistics of what, when, why, and how, and of issues of authenticity and engagement. As it unfolds, the book narrows its focus to address specific aspects of assessment, including alternate forms of assessment arising from open learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open educational resources (OER), blended and flexible learning, self-assessment, and social media’s impact on assessment practice.
While we have tried to roll out a discussion on online assessment in a logical, sequential fashion, many concepts are inextricably interrelated. How can we tease out constructivism from a discussion of group work? How can learning outcomes be separated from course design? We have indicated as clearly as we can where to find various connected discussions within the book.
While it should be noted that this is not a book that will instruct readers on how to build tests or examinations, that this is not a guide to measurement—to questions of reliability, validity, or scoring—its pages nonetheless present many opportunities for immediate application to online learning environments, outlining strategies for appropriate evaluation planning and for creative and authentic assessments.
At the end of the book, we include an appendix entitled “Other Voices: Reflections from the Field” in which we share responses from colleagues on questions of assessment from their own practices. We hope that you find this supplementary material accessible and useful.