Using formative assessments to fine-tune your approach while delivering course content.

Expectedly, a natural follow-up to the article Planning Your Online Teaching Strategy would be a discussion concerning the delivery of material to students throughout the curriculum of a course, long after introductory lessons are completed.

As was discussed in the previous article, the effective and consistent use of diagnostic assessments is a great way to decide how to best tailor course content delivery prior to introducing new material to students. They can be used either at the beginning of a course, weeks before a course, at the beginning of every new unit throughout the curriculum, or even when introducing difficult material not covered previously.

However, depending on how large each unit in a course is, there will be opportunities to gauge where students are retention-wise as they progress through each lesson that is covered. These opportunities should be noted and planned for throughout course curriculum, and it is in these points where formative assessments should be scheduled to occur.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, formative assessments refer to evaluations that a teacher uses to gauge student content-retention throughout the duration of a unit within a course. These evaluations can take the form of quizzes, short tests, a small research assignment, or any short-term activity that can be graded in a meaningful, quantifiable manner. Once several lessons have been taught to your students, you will want to see how well they are grasping the material that you have covered within that timeframe.

Don’t let Your Students Get Lost in Your Curriculum

The last thing you want to do is get to the end of a unit and discover that your students are lost as far as your curriculum is concerned (see online course design and development strategies that work). This is not only a waste of your time and effort spent teaching the last several lessons since your last (diagnostic) assessment, but it is a waste of time and money for students taking your course, who are expecting to learn something from you.

eCourse Sellers: Word of Mouth Spreads Quickly Online

Negative experiences like this do not bode well for your online course or the future of your teaching career if we consider how quickly it takes for word-of-mouth to spread online. So this is something you will really want to avoid if you wish to truly achieve success in facilitating your online course. Ultimately, formative assessments form the bread and butter of the collective feedback that teachers receive from students, since they form the bulk of evaluations that are collected from students throughout the course. They will allow teachers to tweak their approach when teaching the material of their curriculum, so that they can maximize teaching efficiency and the effectiveness of student learning.

Formative Assessments: Tripple Purpose

If some students are struggling to understand the material, you can alter the timeframe of your course schedule to allow for review of previously covered teaching points, or you can create further exercises for your students to practice and master – flexibility is key, and smaller units within your curriculum will help with this (Portion-Sized e-Learning). If some of your other students are stronger, you can use this knowledge to also adjust your methods of teaching your lessons. For example, rather than assign an activity to your students to complete and submit individually, you can assign group-work (virtually, through Skype or some other form of teleconferencing), so that weaker students have the opportunity to work with stronger students. This will serve the triple propose of respecting your own internal deadlines for unit completion, allow weaker students to get the opportunity to learn from fellow students for a fresher perspective, and prevent stronger students from getting bored going through previously-mastered material through a traditional review.

An adjustment such as this can make all the difference between the success or failure of your course, simply through keeping yourself continually abreast of your students’ retention-level with liberal use of formative assessments throughout the course.

Demonstrate your Creativity as an Online Teacher

Do not be afraid to use these assessments to demonstrate your creativity as a teacher, since the sheer amount of opportunities throughout your curriculum will allow you to keep things interesting for your students, using a variety of different activities that appeal to different learners (Multimedia for Multiple Intelligences). After all, the more positive notes you hit amongst your students and their learning experience through your course, the better the music – so wave that baton with gusto, Maestro!

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