IT Teaching Resources

Supporting assessment in online environments

Suggestions and considerations for feedback and evaluation in a virtual classroom

Article Promising practices

This article is part of a series around bridging synchronous and asynchronous learning, including guides on direct instruction, questioning and discussion, learning activities, and assessment and feedback. To learn more about the basis for synchronous and asynchronous learning, see our guide here.

Assessments can serve multiple important purposes. They can help instructors evaluate student learning after a learning experience, and they can also be used to provide ongoing feedback to students and instructors to help them monitor and improve learning during the experience. Here we focus on a few assessment goals that may seem especially challenging in online environments. Many of these tips can be implemented across synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid course structures.

Challenge: Monitor student learning and provide opportunities for assessment and feedback 

Instructors have found it important to integrate frequent and varied opportunities for student assessment and feedback, which are key to understanding learner needs (Interview with Victor Lee). Satisfaction with online courses that included student assessment in Spring 2020 reached 68 percent compared to 50 percent for courses without this feature (Digital Promise, 2020). 

  • Implement frequent quizzes or other assessments (Digital Promise, 2020), rather than a few high stakes assessments. For example, include weekly essays or collaborative projects with different components to be submitted each week
  • Scaffold assignments – use small weekly assignments that promote understanding and prepare students for in-depth class discussions, which may build to larger projects/assignments (Lunch-n-Learn Student Voices Panel, June 15, 2020)
  • Use weekly exit tickets to check in on students, collect anonymous feedback, and assess how students are doing in class and emotionally (Lunch-n-Learn Instructor Panel #2, May 27, 2020)
    • Send out weekly surveys (e.g. using Google Forms, Qualtrics, Poll Everywhere, Canvas quiz or Zoom polls) to gauge student understanding of content as well as their feelings about the class and their broader academic, emotional and mental wellbeing
    • Adapt course content and structure based on student feedback
  • Integrate questions into live or prerecorded lectures to gauge student understanding 
  • Hold 3-minute discussions in-between content blocks, in which you invite students to summarize and ask questions on what they have learned so far. This interaction both promotes student engagement and allows instructors to check students’ understanding before moving on to the next topic. This way, you can monitor student learning and tailor your teaching accordingly (Lunch-n-Learn-Universal Design for Learning, May 21, 2020)

Challenge: Understand which students or small groups most need your help

  • Use the information flow from the digital tools like Google Slides, Mural, or Jamboard to gather feedback about student learning and decide which breakout room you should join:
    • In the example below (using Google Slides),  you can see all three breakout rooms working on the assigned task. Group # 1 is on track, whereas group $ 2 has not started the task, and group # 3 shows a misconception. Based on this information flow you know that, for now, you should focus your attention on helping groups # 2 and # 3.

  • Use diagnostic assessments to structure student collaborative work. Have students take assessments online and use these (or iReady) to divide students into small groups that instructors can then work with for a couple of hours (NewSchools Webinar, 2020)
  • Focus on assessing student well-being through individual check-ins via email, during office hours, or by conducting surveys (Lunch-n-Learn Instructor Panel #2, May 27, 2020)

Challenge: Focus on process and prioritize growth in student thinking 

  • Ask students to reflect on their learning journey to promote the integration of information. You can do this through assignments requiring students to express what they have learned and what they still need to learn. (Digital Promise, 2020; Interview with Jo Boaler)
    • Ask students to ‘write down a letter to yourself and think about some of the ideas you’ve got from this course, and add any boosting messages you want to give yourself.’ (Interview with Jo Boaler)
    • Ask HS-H.Ed students:
      • ‘What have you learned and what are you thinking about?
      • ‘What questions do you have?’
      • ‘Write down for somebody who wasn’t here what the main messages from the lesson were’
  • Provide high weight to student engagement. Base part of evaluation on substantive engagement around ideas or the effort that went into the product or project. (Lunch-n-Learn Instructor Panel #2, May 27, 2020)
  • Grade attendance, participation, and contributions. Choose a system and communicate it to the students to keep track (Chou, 2002). For example: there is software that provides reports about sent chat messages, student attendance to live lessons, viewed videos, duration, pauses by each student.
  • Provide explicit assessment rubrics. If you are using a Learning Management System such as Canvas or Blackboard, you can include the rubric in the SpeedGrader
  • Leave room for student creativity as part of the assessment. Give students choices and freedom in assessment, include creativity in your assessment rubric (GSE instructors)