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A Proactive Approach for Online Learning
By Emily Bergquist and Rick Holbeck
There are two main forms of assessment often used within the online classroom. Both formative and summative assessments evaluate student learning and assist instructors in guiding instructional planning and delivery. While the purpose of a summative assessment is to check for mastery following the instruction, formative assessment focuses on informing teachers in ways to improve student learning during lesson delivery (Gualden, 2010). Each type of assessment has a specific place and role within education, both traditional and online.
To reach higher efficiency and success, formative assessments such as Angelo and Cross’ (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to check for student understanding prior to the summative assessment within the online classroom. The following strategies have been found to be both simple and effective for both the instructor and student in online modalities.
1. Directed Paraphrasing (Angelo & Cross, 1993) The ultimate goal for teachers is to provide students with lessons that allow for the highest level of mastery and application. Directed paraphrasing allows teachers to obtain a small snippet of what students have learned. This will also hone in upon summarization and paraphrasing skills by translating specialized information into text that is understood by the learner (Angelo & Cross, 1993). This strategy could be used by:
- Identifying the desired objective to be communicated to students (e.g. Students will evaluate the importance of professional dispositions ideal for the field of teaching.)
- Requesting that students write, to a specific audience, a paraphrased summary of what they have learned (e.g. In three to five sentences, directed to your fellow teachers, paraphrase the professional dispositions that are ideal for the field of teaching.) This question may be posed before instruction to assess prior knowledge or during instruction to assess the presented material.
- Following student responses, the instructor will participate and provide both individual and group feedback to address any areas of confusion and/or misunderstanding by presenting additional discussion responses or comments.
2. Student-Generated Test Questions (Angelo & Cross, 1993) Teachers can assess what information is best remembered and most important to students by engaging them in developing their own test questions. This can provide instructors with understanding what information students deem as useful, what questions would be considered fair, and how well they are able to address their own test questions. To use this strategy in the online classroom:
- Identify the desired objective, assignment, or exam to be communicated to students (e.g. Students will evaluate contemporary issues in educational policy.)
- Determine how many questions students will create. (Typically one to two questions will suffice.)
- Prior to summative assessment (quiz, assignment, essay, or exam), ask students to develop questions to be posted within the discussion forum. (e.g. Following this week’s topic and discussion, create one to two questions regarding contemporary issues in educational policy. Please provide your answer to the question(s). A variation of this could ask that students provide answers to other students’ questions.)
- Following student-posed questions, the instructor provides both individual and group feedback to the class to assist students in better test/summative assessment performance by presenting additional discussion responses or comments.
3. Double-Entry Journal (Angelo & Cross, 1993) Application is one of the essential elements to student comprehension. In order to promote application of specific objectives, instructors can introduce the double-entry journal within the discussion forum. In this strategy, students read, analyze, and respond to assigned text through the use of a simple graphic organizer (Angelo & Cross, 1993). In using a T-chart, students will reserve one side for elements of the text that stood out to them, while the opposite side will be the explanation, analysis, and possible application of this portion of text. This can be conducted in an online classroom by:
- Selecting a short, vital reading or section of text that is particularly challenging for students.
- Presenting students with a T-chart template to do the following:
- Left column – students list and copy three-to-five meaningful excerpts from the specified text.
- Right column – students explain why each portion of the text was selected in addition to any reactions to their choices.
- Following student completion, use this to promote discussion within the forums by providing feedback and guidance to students regarding their selections. This should be done in addition to a whole class summary.
The above practices include only a small sample of possibilities in regards to using online formative assessment. If used properly, the student feedback collected through the use of formative assessments such as CATs will allow instructors to check for understanding, guide instruction, and provide a proactive approach to student mastery. An important reminder for online educators is to maximize the use of discussion forums. The fast-paced nature of online education does not allow for time wasted; therefore, the addition of CATs within discussion forums can take a proactive approach to student learning and success.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. San Francisco; Jossey-Bass.
Gaulden, S. (2010). Classroom assessment techniques. Essex County College. Retrieved from http://sloat.essex.edu/sloat/delete/contentforthewebsite/classroom_assessment_techniques.pdf
Emily Bergquist and Rick Holbeck are currently working as ground and online instructors as well as managers of online full-time faculty at Grand Canyon University.
Reflect, Relate, and Question
By Maryellen Weimer, PhD
A simple teaching technique that helps students learn; now there’s something few teachers would pass up! This particular technique involves a four-question set that gets students actively responding to the material they are studying. They analyze, reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:
- “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this activity.”
- “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea … is important?”
- “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
- “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” [You might need to prohibit the answer “nothing”.]
Dietz-Uhler and Lanter, who authored the set, had students in an introductory psych course answer the questions about a Web-based activity that they had completed in groups. Alexander, Commander, Greenberg, and Ward used the set to promote critical thinking in an online course. Their students answered the questions before discussing a case online.
The question set is versatile. Here are some examples of how it could be used.
- Use the four prompts as a way to summarize an in-class discussion, adjusting the wording of the questions: “Identify one important idea that you learned during this discussion,” etc.
- Have students answer the questions about a reading assignment. Dietz-Uhler and Lanter had students write 100-word responses to the first three prompts. Written answers could be shared in small group discussions.
- At the beginning of class, give students five minutes to write answers to the questions as a way of reviewing notes taken in a previous class session. Or, have students submit answers online before class and use sample responses to review the material.
- A version of the question set could be the template used to provide peer feedback on a paper. (What’s one important idea presented in this paper? Why does the author think the idea is important? Is that idea important to you? Why or why not? What question(s) do you think the author still needs answer?)
- Use the questions as way to end and evaluate a course. (What’s one important idea you’ll take from this course? Why do you believe it’s important? How does it relate to your life? What are the next questions you want to find answers to?) To answer these questions, students must reflect on their learning. Their answers might cause teachers to reflect as well.
Does this question-set have an effect on student learning? Yes, it does! Dietz-Uhler and Lanter’s students who answered the four prompts before taking a quiz did significantly better than students who completed them after they took the quiz. The average quiz score for those answering the questions first was 74% (SD 25.48%) and 59.18% (SD 29.69%) for those answering them after the quiz. The second author group analyzed the level of critical thinking in the online discussions of a case when students answered the four questions before they participated in the discussion. They discussed two other cases without using the prompts. Critical thinking scores were significantly higher when students used the question set first.
If the technique is used in a dissimilar way the same results aren’t guaranteed, of course, but you can test your results. Short of an empirical analysis, you can ask students whether the questions enhanced their understanding. When asked, Deitz-Uhler and Lanter’s students said that they did. You also could decide to make a critical assessment of the questions’ effectiveness.
Sometimes I think we gravitate toward fancy techniques—the ones with lots of bells and whistles. It’s nice on occasion to wow students, but it’s not always necessary. A technique like this showcases a simple but useful way students can interact with the content. It’s a teaching technique that becomes a study strategy capable of moving students toward thinking and learning on a deeper level.
References: Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning. Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.
Alexander, M. E., Commander, N., Greenberg, D., and Ward, T. (2010) Using the four-questions technique to enhance critical thinking in online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6 (2), 409-415.