19 Informal Assessments

Informal assessments are an integral part of any quality course. Many blended learning faculty incorporate these types of assessments into their courses to increase their presence in the online environment and to keep track of their students’ learning using tools within the learning management system (LMS) or publicly-available alternatives if necessary. Approaches to informal assessment vary. For instance, some LMSs (or free online tools) allow faculty to create practice exams/self-tests for students to complete. While unscored, these informal assessments often provide data for the instructor to review as one indicator of student learning. As one example, in the context of an introductory biology course, Walker et al. (2014) studied the comparative effect of non-credit, online practice exams on students’ performance on in-class graded exams. This rigorous study found that “students who took these practice exams achieved significantly higher scores on the corresponding for-credit exams….”(p. 154). Since the study controlled for potential intervening variables, “the results show that the benefit of practice exams is not simply an artifact of student self-selection” (p. 154). In the case of a different discipline, Riley et al. (2014) found that online self-assessment quizzes as part of online modules in a blended writing course were “crucial for the students’ subsequent execution of the class’ main essay assignments” (p. 168).

As an additional approach to informal assessment, summative and formative evaluations can be conducted by collecting anonymous input from students during and after the course using either a survey tool within the LMS or one of the many free web-based survey tools. Following is a more substantive description of a few other approaches to informal assessment in the online environment.

The following section is excerpted from “Evaluating and Improving Your Online Teaching Effectiveness” by Kevin Kelly in the Commonwealth of Learning’s Education for a Digital World in compliance with the Commonwealth of Learning’s legal notice and may not be re-mixed apart from compliance with their repackaging guidelines.

One-Sentence Summary

The one-sentence summary is another classroom assessment technique that I adapt to the online
environment. Designed to elicit higher level thinking, a one-sentence summary demonstrates whether or not students are able to synthesize a process or concept. Students answer seven questions separately: “Who? Does What? To Whom (or What)? When? Where? How? And Why?” Then they put those answers together into one sentence. Angelo and Cross (1993) also describe this exercise in their book about classroom assessment techniques. Examples I have seen include assigning nursing students to write a one-sentence summary of a mock patient’s case, as nurses are often required to give a quick synopsis about each patient, and asking engineering students to write a summary about fluid dynamics in a given situation.

It is fairly easy to use this technique online. You can set up a discussion forum to collect the student entries. The online environment also makes it fairly easy to engage students in a peer review process and to provide timely feedback.

When looking at the results of the students’ summaries, you can identify areas where large numbers of students did not demonstrate an understanding of the topic or concept. The most common problem area for students revolves around the question “Why?” Figure 24.4 is an example of a one-sentence summary submitted via discussion thread. The instructor’s reply gives suggestions for improvement and shows the student how the instructor interpreted the sentence components.

My Sentence
by Student B—Friday, 2 September, 12:35 PM
In order to adequately address teaching effectiveness an instructor needs to use an effective
tool to measure specific activities or deficiencies in student performance by using techniques
including but not limited to: surveys, analysis of performance, and questionnaires.Re: My Sentence
by Instructor—Sunday, 4 September, 08:31 PM
This is a good start. WHEN does it happen? Keep in mind that the process does not end
with using a data collection tool. There is analysis of the process before the course begins, and after collecting the data. Also, WHERE does it happen? Is this online, in the classroom, or both?
In order to adequately address teaching effectiveness [7 WHY] an instructor [1 WHO]
needs to use an effective tool to measure specific activities
or deficiencies [2 DOES WHAT] in student performance [3 TO WHOM] by using
techniques including but not limited to: surveys, analysis of performance, and
questionnaires [6 HOW]

Figure 24.4 Example one-sentence summary student submission with instructor’s reply

Student-generated test questions

Ask students to create three to five test questions each. Tell them that you will use a certain number of those questions on the actual test. By doing this, you get the benefit of seeing the course content that the students think is important compared to the content that you think they should focus on. You can make revisions to your presentations to address areas that students did not cover in their questions. If there are enough good student questions you can also use some for test review exercises.


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Blended Learning Handbook by University of Alberta Centre for Teaching and Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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