Integrating various methods of assessment into the course design is
essential to help students meet learning outcomes.
aligned with student learning outcomes.
integrated into the course design.
both formative and summative elements.
higher-order as well as lower-order skills.
Formative & Summative
Assessments are used at the end of a learning unit to measure the knowledge
students have gained. Traditionally, assessment mechanisms have taken the form
of high-stakes objective-based tests and quizzes (multiple-choice, true-false,
fill-in, short answer). Truly understanding how much a student is learning in
the distance education environment, however, means incorporating authentic
assessments aimed at evaluating not just students’ knowledge, but also
how well they are able to apply that knowledge to real-world tasks that
require higher-order cognitive skills.
When creating assessments for a course, it is helpful to think of the two
major types of assessments, formative and summative.
Assessment that is carried
out in order to form a picture of the learning process.
Formative assessments are ongoing and can be used by both the student and
instructor to gather information about how well the course is meeting the
needs of the students. With formative assessments student participation plays
an active role, as feedback is used to develop and set goals to further
student learning outcomes.
Discussion posts, journals and portfolio reflections are examples of this
type of assessment.
Assessment that is used to
measure what students have learned/mastered. Summative
assessments involve assigning a grade and are generally the most common form
of assessment in the traditional classroom environment.
End of the unit tests and term papers are examples of this type of
Integrating Assessment Types
It might seem that formative and summative assessments are
mutually exclusive. However, when assessment is a cohesive part of the course
design, there is often a balance of
both assessment types. When formative assessments are used in conjunction
with summative assessments, they will provide a more complete portrait of
student learning. This is also known as continuous
For example, instructor feedback on term paper outlines and drafts and
peer reviews can be used by a student for a final draft that receives a
letter grade. In this process-oriented approach to assessment, both
the instructor and student adjust their teaching and learning during the
first part of the project, resulting in a final product that receives a
Authentic Assessment &
When incorporating formative and authentic assessments into course design
assessment shifts from the evaluation of knowledge through an isolated testing
event to a measure of the performance (known as performance-based
assessment) of how much students are learning. Assessment is no longer
linked to a single grade on a midterm or final, but rather is seen as integral
to course design, and determines what instructors need to do to adjust
their teaching in order to meet student learning outcomes.
Many of the sample tasks listed in the table describing
Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used as formative assessments for projects that
are formally evaluated. The diagram below illustrates the difference between
the use of traditional assessments focusing on lower-order skills such as remembering
and understanding and the use of authentic, performance-based
assessments focusing on higher-order skills such as analyzing and evaluating
for an assessment at the end of a textbook chapter.
Because assessment in the traditional classroom is often limited to one quiz
or test that demonstrates recall (and/or perhaps just guessing) of information,
instructors have less information available to them to assess student learning.
When using authentic assessments, however, instructors have more documentation
and are therefore able to gain deeper insight about a student’s actual comprehension
of the content.
The same holds true for midterm and final projects where, instead of having
a single high-stakes exam, assessment can be based on a longer term project.
Each step of the assessment task is integrated into the course and completed
incrementally over a period of time. In this way students have the benefit of
instructor feedback early on in a project and can then adjust their work as
This means that students are not only evaluated on how well they do on the
final project, but also on their ability to incorporate instructor (and perhaps
peer) feedback into their end product. Performance then becomes a process
linked to learning outcomes as opposed to a recitation of content.
Evaluating Authentic Assessment
Objective tests focus on discrete items where one thing at a time is tested
in isolation. Using authentic assessments, however, means that instructors need
to approach evaluation differently. Instead of looking for a specific answer to
a question, the entire student work is assessed holistically based on a set of
criteria relevant to the project. This is done through the use of rubrics.
Rubrics are tools that outline the quality standards for student success in
an assessment. Descriptions in a rubric are directly linked to the learning
objectives of a particular assignment or project. When these benchmarks are
used and given to students prior to turning in their assignments, students know
what is expected of them. This gives students more opportunities to reflect on
and revise their work and ultimately more control, or autonomy, over their own
Benefits of Rubrics
closely align assessments with student learning outcomes.
communicate course and instructor expectations.
a wider range of skills and performances.
students greater autonomy in their learning.
both the process and the product of a student work.
Types of Rubrics
There are two main types of rubrics used in higher education – analytic
and holistic. While each type of rubric has advantages and
disadvantages, in distance education, analytic rubrics are used most often
because of the amount of detailed feedback they provide students.
for success are listed separately.
more detailed feedback about performance.
on criteria for success.
more time to create (at first).
used to evaluate authentic assessments.
for success are all listed together.
general information about performance
on a scale of performance.
less time to create.
often used to evaluate general proficiency.
This shows an
example of an analytic and holistic rubric from DePaul University.
Numerous resources exist for creating and modifying rubrics for distance
education courses. Many websites, such as RubiStar, have rubrics which can be
modified to meet individual course needs. Most learning management systems
like Canvas have interactive rubric tools to aid in the grading process.
"Shasta College Online Faculty Resources", is a derivative of "PCCOnline Faculty
Resources” by Pasadena City College Distance Education Program, used under
a CC by Katie Datko, Editor.