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Meaningful Assessment Online

How can you evaluate progress in a digital medium?

We’re looking at meaningful ways of assessing your students’ learning online, whatever the subject matter may be.

Digital tools and remote learning are both becoming increasingly popular and normalised in education. And while there are plenty of resources and ideas available for moving lessons and activities to an online setting, one aspect of learning is often overlooked: assessment!

Assessing and measuring progress is crucial as part of a supported, effective learning journey. It helps us to know where students are at but more importantly, helps them to know where they are at and what next steps they need to take, so they can own their progress. And as we move forward into a digital future, this will have to be done outside of the typical test or exam setting—that is, inside a hall or classroom with invigilators watching. Here are a few thoughts on how you can effectively assess your students’ learning online.


Feed back constantly

This concept applies in all learning environments; we’re pointing out that it remains very important to provide learners with constant, targeted feedback so they can continue to improve their understanding.

In fact, constant feedback is even more important in an online setting, as it keeps the learning visible. When there’s no opportunity for kaiako to chat casually with students about what they’re doing well and where they could improve, comments and observations must be intentional and abundant.

Many collaborative digital tools have channels designed for feedback. If you’re using Google Classroom, for example, you can leave comments or suggested changes on a document for the student to see and manage.

Make use of multimedia

One of the advantages of digital and online assessment is that the possibilities for alternative media are vast.

Why? Multiple media opportunities can make assessments more accessible, particularly to neurodivergent learners who can better articulate their learning verbally or visually. Additionally, having students articulate and express their understanding in different ways helps to embed it further. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that, particularly in a digital setting where the opportunity easily presents itself?

Multimodal assessment is not just about using alternatives to written text; it's most powerful when we get learners to COMBINE two or more modalities. Take a look at this study (Fjortoft, 2020) for more on multimodal digital classroom assessments!

You can create assessments and assignments that involve:

  • Audio recordings

  • Short videos

  • Screenshots or photos to demonstrate how they are applying learning in practice

  • Embedded artifacts created on other platforms

One top tip for your time management: set a time limit for audio and video submissions, just as you would set a word limit for written submissions.

Create rubrics

Rubrics are a great way to make it clear what is expected and what will be assessed. And when it comes to online learning, clear communication and accessible information are exactly what you want.

Making a rubric allows you to communicate the success criteria and keep learning visible. They equip your students to prepare themselves independently as much as possible.

We also highly recommend co-constructing rubrics with your students for the best results—not only for assessments, but throughout the learning process. Allowing learners to give input, and including their thoughts and ideas in the finished product, has been proven beneficial. And making them available during learning enables students to self-assess, both formally and casually, against the learning objectives.

“Self-assessment can be useful in any subject. If students produce it, they can assess it; and if they can assess it, they can improve it.” - Andrade, H. (2008).

Rubrics encourage reflection by both learners and teachers. And creating one in a collaborative fashion is in itself a powerful act, instigating considerations of values, expectations for learning, and how these are demonstrated in actual classroom practices. They help learners to grow their self-direction abilities.

If you’re keen to harness the power of rubrics for self-assessment, they can be created online with collaborative documents, forums, or sticky-note platforms like Jamboard or Padlet.

Making online exams secure

Sometimes nothing but a traditional exam will do. And when it has to be done online, it raises a common question:

“How can I make my online exams secure?”

With no in-person invigilation available, it’s a fair question. And unfortunately, without using expensive proctoring software, there are few options. A proctored exam is one with supervision of the students to ensure that no reference materials are used—or only the ones which are allowed. Difficult to do remotely!

There are several platforms available that offer fairly comprehensive virtual proctoring. Microsoft Take a Test Mode is free and built in to Windows, but only works for quiz-type tests and there is no way to know whether a student has help at hand. Software like Education Perfect Assessments is a good option, but there is still no guarantee that a learner is alone and using only their own knowledge. University-level proctoring software is increasingly effective, but pricey. While, for example, a large organisation such as NZQA may provide secure online invigilation on a large scale, it can be difficult for individual schools to offer the same for internal or preliminary exams.

In fact, our director Stephen was recently talking to an Education Solution Specialist from Microsoft about what’s available and the consensus was that affordable and/or effective (both, of course, being preferred) options are difficult to find. Not very encouraging, but hope abides that as online learning and assessment become more common the possibilities will expand and perhaps become more attainable.

For this reason, making traditional exams secure online is tricky. Our top piece of advice to kaiako is this: re-design assessment with a fresh perspective. You can use learning portfolios (with regular feedback), co-design rubrics as a basis for assessment and self-assessment, accept multimodal submissions to both demonstrate and deepen student understanding, and find other ways to track progress on their haerenga.

How do you assess your students’ progress when the typical methods are unavailable, outdated, or impractical? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

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