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Assessment Strategies  

Assessment is a real challenge in online courses. We will be having a live discussion about this on Thursday afternoon, but I'd also like to gather ideas here.

What have you tried?
What works for you?
What definitely does not work?

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I have used several, from back of the chapter questions, to weekly open-book quizzes, to exams. The chapter questions and open-book quizzes were all administered via WebCT, but I used paper exams. The schools in South Dakota are all connected under the same board of regents. This helps them to work well together, including cross-listing courses and having connected continuing education centers. The continuing education centers also work as proctor cites for both paper exams and online exams. These proctor sites were away for me to give exams without the worry of cheating.

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I think a lot of assessment strategies are class-size dependent. In my small master's classes I can get away with doing all of the grading myself even though it is 100% problem sets, discussions, and papers. If I ever get more than 15 students in one of those classes at once, I know I will be buried under a load of badly-labeled plots very soon, so I will have to come up with something else.

Some of my colleagues who teach the huge non-majors classes spend an inordinate amount of time programming the quiz test bank questions and stuff like that. It seems to work for them but they have to have a dedicated instructional designer who is tech savvy to handle it all, most of the time.

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The first several semester I taught envr sci online, I also did proctored, closed-book, paper exams. I was increasingly finding this hard to do as there was not always proctors close by some students. This last spring I used online exams for the first time. This was mainly a test run for this summer (the first summer I am offering it). It would be hard for students to come in every other week to take a test. The online way works out ok for me. I have them timed at 50 minutes and only one attempt (the same amount of time they would have in a traditional setting). I have a mixture of discussion questions and multiple choice. They learn on the first test that they cannot look up much and still finish the exam (it cuts them off at 50 min). The average for my first test last week was a 68%. We will see if it's just the intensity of the summer or them learning a lesson. The avg last semester was around 78%. The 68% is closer to the face to face class.

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My assessment strategies have evolved over the years but I think the principle that I've tried to stick to is carefully aligning the assessments with the course's learning objectives and outcomes.

For weekly quizzes and exercises I use multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, but not ones that are easily answered verbatim from the text. For example, an image may show a type of volcano they're asked to identify or a graph from which they're asked to estimate a river's flood recurrence interval. These questions include both computational (e.g., plate motion rates or radiometric ages) and non-computational (e.g., relative dating of sequences of events) problem solving as well.

I also include two writing assignments in which students write outlines and then abstracts of two recent topical journal articles (typically, from Scientific American). These assignments enable me to assess my students' abilities to think critically about how data and conclusions are linked in a scientific paper and to write concise, grammatically-correct narratives. I use a rubric to assess both the outlines and abstracts, and provide lots of written feedback.

This issue of assessment is something I would like to hear more folks weigh in on because I suspect there are lots of different strategies that work well for assessment.

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I break my tests up into two different exams - one multiple choice and one short answer. I am experimenting this summer with letting them take the multiple choice exam twice. They only see their score and can make the decision to re-take if they want. Folks who have taken the exam a second time have not seen much grade improvement, but what has happened is that I have not had any last minute emails from students saying they got kicked out of Blackboard or complaining that they unexpectedly lost their internet connection.

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I try to provide something for every type of learner:

First, students are to complete all online expeditions, including required discussions, by the required dates given in course schedule. Students keep the expedition worksheets each week as they will be submitted at end of the course in workbook (portfolio);

For the interactive discussion types and writers - 16% of grade - participation in electronic discussions;

For the critical thinkers and writers - 10% of grade - one essay (approximately 3-4 double-spaced pages) on marine fish stock assessment and management methods;

For the test takers (including math questions) 54% of grade - Open notes and book quiz and two exams (also an 300 word essay question documenting and describing research experience


For the imaginative and reflective student who writes well - 10% of grade - Final exam involves developing a research grant proposal of an original idea

For the student who works hard, but effort may not be fully reflected in exams and writing assignments - 10% of grade - Course workbook of all online expedition work (due at end of course); this is how students turn in and receive credit for completing the weekly web-based assignments

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