Education, eLearning, Instructional Design

Online Student Assessment: Be Fair, Meaningful, Effective and Useful

3 min read | Jun 25, 2014
Online Student Assessment: Be Fair, Meaningful, Effective and Useful cover image

Delving further into the philosophy of planning student assessment design.

Following up from the Definition of Summative Assessment – Part I, it is important to go further into depth concerning the four strands of the Ontario standard for online student assessment. The previous article discussed the importance of understanding that effective assessment-development is critical for both the teacher’s curriculum design and the student’s learning experience. It also illustrated the inversely-proportionate relationship between the Learning Pyramid, Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the subsequent development of the standard for assessment-development from the Ministry of Education in Ontario, a province in Canada.

Although Bloom’s Taxonomy explicitly establishes a clear hierarchy of learning objectives for students to achieve in order to progressively demonstrate content mastery, Ontario’s standard for assessment-development – which is derived from Bloom’s work – does not necessarily prioritize the different strands that a student’s assessment should take into account in its evaluation. The four strands of Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking and Inquiry, Communication, and Application are areas of focus that teachers in Ontario use to ensure that the assessments being developed for their classes are effective, meaningful, fair, and useful.

There is an attempt made to ensure that each of these strands are covered throughout assessments scheduled within each unit or sub- section of course curriculum (diagnostic assessments, formative assessments), resulting in a cumulative assignment (summative assessments) at the end that includes – if possible – all four strands at once, thus ensuring a fully comprehensive assessment of a student’s learning. It is understood by many Ontario teachers that not every assessment will include all four strands, since the sheer variety of assessments available to use and the myriad of course content delivery methods will create an exponential amount of different possibilities to consider. However, the priority is always there to try and include as many of the strands as realistically possible for every assessment that is created for evaluating students.

Furthermore, the attempt to rank each of the four strands in direct correlation with Bloom’s Taxonomy is not necessarily prioritized in the exact same way as ensuring their inclusion in general. Clearly, cumulative activities used as summative assessments for your students will be more likely to be best-suited for inclusion of all four strands, since their cumulative nature allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of student mastery of learned content. With this in mind, it can be observed then that some strands lend themselves to particular types of assessments more than others.

The four strands

For example, the Knowledge and Understanding strand – though not entirely a direct correlation to Bloom’s Remember learning objective – is more likely to be best-suited for diagnostic and formative assessments, since these assessments are also more likely designed to evaluate content-retention amongst your students early on in the course and/or unit when you are teaching new material such as subject-specific terminology, processes, or other theoretical content.

The Thinking and Inquiry strand looks for assessments that require students to research further upon the new material that they have learned, thus demonstrating a more focused approach to content relevant to general information already learned in class.

Communication involves assessments that permit more creativity on the part of students, further giving them the opportunity to demonstrate learning-mastery through communication with the teacher and the rest of the class about what they have learned.

And finally, the Application strand of Ontario’s standard for assessment-development involves assessment that allows students a chance to demonstrate an ability to process the knowledge gained in class and develop it further into new ideas and theories.

Although these four strands were specifically designed for Ontario’s elementary and secondary school curricula, the Application strand in-use is best demonstrated amongst post-secondary PhD candidates in universities, when they are required to research and develop a thesis that they must defend in front of a panel of superior scholars in their respective fields (subject matter experts, much like yourself). Sound pedagogical philosophy is relevant and applicable no matter what the level of learning, age-range of students, or medium of content delivery (i.e. online eLearning, etc.) – so use it to your advantage!

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