4. Choose appropriate methods of assessment and ways to demonstrate competence

Key questions

  • How do students demonstrate their learning? Do the chosen assessment methods measure the competences the students acquire?
  • How does assessment guide and support learning in the course?
  • How do the chosen assessment methods affect the students’ and the teacher’s workload?

Assessment in digital implementations

When a course is taught either wholly or partly in a digital learning environment, it is necessary to consider whether the assessment methods previously used in face-to-face teaching will also work online. The assessment methods must be developed and diversified in tandem with the development of teaching methods and work practices. When you choose an assessment method, it is worth considering its impact on the learning process, the chosen work methods and the tools used in the digital environment.

Digital learning emphasises pre-planning and often requires going through the entire course: where and how is the student guided from one stage to the next, from start to finish? This is also the case in assessment, where evaluation and feedback must be planned for the entire digital learning period. The study attainment and assessment methods should be chosen in such a way that they enable assessing whether the student has achieved the learning objectives. Well-chosen assessment methods that are appropriate to the objectives support the student’s learning process during the course. It is also important to communicate the assessment criteria to the students at the beginning of the course because knowing about assessment also guides the students’ actions during the course. They often focus on what is being assessed. Remember that a variety of assessment methods also allows highlighting a wide range of competences.

Students should have the opportunity to learn and improve their performance based on feedback and assessment received during the course. Assessment during the learning process is motivating and helps to take stock and adjust activities during the course. A final evaluation may help to understand what should have been done differently and what was successful even though it is too late to adjust one’s actions in the course. It is therefore worth taking advantage of the possibilities technology offers for assessment in the digital environment. Various tools to monitor progress, self-study exercises or pre- and mid-term tests provide the students and the teacher with important information about progress and learning and help to orientate activities according to feedback. In addition, the tools provide a rhythm to learning so that it is not possible to postpone a disproportionate amount of work until the very end of the course.

When evaluating a digital implementation, it is worth considering the impact of the chosen assessment methods on the workload of the student and the teacher. In digital environments, the assessment of students’ learning requires that the assessment is based on actions, performance and ‘traces’ of learning shown in the environment. In virtual teaching, interaction and activities are traditionally very textual and competences are demonstrated with written assignments. However, could the course also assess other types of activity and work so that the student’s working is not one-sided and limited to writing wide-ranging texts? It is worth evaluating whether it is even possible to assess and give feedback on each student’s multi-page reports in a mass course, or whether the student could demonstrate the same competence in a way that would not burden the teacher overly much. It is also important to discuss the ways and rhythm of performance also within degree programmes and/or fields of study, so that all the deadlines for similar, possibly very demanding assignments are not at the same time and done in the same way in all courses. This is also a way to enhance the generic skills produced by the different study completion methods.

If a variety of methods has been chosen for working online, it is also worth varying the evaluation methods according to the activities. The working methods and tools that are specific to the digital environment are also well suited to the assessment of, for example, group work and peer- and self-assessment. Could the success of group work be evaluated by the group itself? What if the output of one group is assessed by another group? It should be remembered that even these methods of assessment do not obliterate the role of the teacher but only change it. Peer assessment requires guidance and facilitation. It is also possible to agree that peer assessment does not affect the grade of the student whose attainment is being assessed but the grade of the assessor. It is important to communicate the assessment criteria to the students in advance as well as how the assessment can be done in a constructive manner. On the other hand, self-assessment helps students to reflect on their learning and visualise their learning process.

Personal feedback is often motivating and appropriately targeted at the student’s performance. The tools of the learning environment allow for a wide range of automation in giving feedback, which makes the teacher’s job easier. Could the feedback be a summary or presented with voice or video? The system can also provide different types of feedback to students depending on, for example, their mid-term exam grade or the progress they are making in the course. Personalised feedback may also be necessary in more significant assignments, but in some cases, general feedback may be sufficient.

The following questions will help you plan the assessment:

What will be assessed?

  • How will the assessment support achieving the learning outcomes?
  • What kind of competences will be assessed: explicit knowledge and remembering, applied knowledge or the process in which the knowledge was generated?
  • What generic skills are being assessed?
  • What can be assessed in the digital environment?

Why and when are they assessed?

  • Is the flow of performance accumulated throughout the course (formative assessment) or only at the end (summative assessment)?
  • Does the assessment provide the student with information about his or her learning and can he or she change his or her learning strategy during the course?
  • What kind of output flow can be produced in the digital environment?

How is the assessment carried out?

  • Will peer assessment and peer learning be used, or will the assignments only be seen and assessed by the teacher?
  • Is it necessary to obtain such performance from the students that demonstrates explicit content knowledge and remembering?
  • Is invigilating and controlling the time and place of the study attainment necessary?
  • Or is it possible to choose a completion method that attests to the student’s ability to apply the knowledge and materials?
  • What tools are available in the digital environment?
  • How do the assessment methods affect the students’ and teacher’s workload.