Assessing Students in Hybrid Courses

Table of Contents

"Backward Course Design" and Assessment

Tailored to Hybrid Courses

Links to Assessment Resources

"Backward Course Design" and Assessment

For an extended, 2-hour treatment of how to design assessment for hybrid classes, check out this Educause Webinar from September 2010:

Maintaining Quality in Blended Learning: From Classroom Assessment to Impact Evaluation

In the book Understanding by Design (link to UW Libraries record), Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe describe a framework for building a course called "Backward Course Design." The process is "backward" because it defies traditional methods of course design that start with thinking about what content should be "covered." Instead, Backward Course Design starts with the desired objectives that students should achieve, as well as outcomes that students should be able to perform. These learning outcomes need to be measurable in order to assess students effectively. This framework represents a crucial first step in understanding how to assess students in any course, including hybrid courses.

Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching outlines Backward Course Design here and provides links to other resources based on Wiggins and McTighe (2005).

After the first phase of Backward Course Design, in which you define and describe desired outcomes, you move on to the second phase, described here by Vanderbilt:

"II. Determine acceptable evidence.

In the second phase of Backward Design, you think about how you will decide if students are starting to master the knowledge and skills you want them to gain.  What will you accept as evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals of the course?  How will you know if they are “getting it”?

When planning how you will collect this evidence, consider a wide range of assessment methods (for example, essay tests, term papers, short-answer quizzes, homework assignments, lab projects, problems to solve, etc.) in order to ensure that you test for exactly the learning you want them to gain.  In other words, sometimes our assessments don’t match our learning goals and we therefore cannot attain the evidence we want.

For example, if one of your goals is for student to learn how to problem-solve, give them an assessment that requires a demonstration of their problem-solving skills.  Have them write out each step they took in addressing the problem, and an explanation of why they took it, instead of simply providing the right answer."

Tailored to Hybrid Courses

As Suzanne Weinstein identified in the Webinar linked above, since the crucial differences between traditional courses and hybrid courses are the time and place of learning, the crucial difference for assessment is determining how students will provide evidence of their learning in the online component. Since "student learning outcomes" should be measureable, the key to online assessment is understanding how to measure activites online.

  • Teaching Best Practice: during the course design process, determine what kinds of measureable evidence the student will provide through the performance of some learning outcome.

One example of online evidence of student learning (that is, achievement of a learning outcome) is: the student will write thoughtful and well-written online discussion board posts. First, the phrase "thoughtful and well-written" would need to be defined in a grading rubric so as to be measureable, for example, by describing such a post as one that "1) makes a clearly articulated claim; 2) supports that claim with evidence; 3) and engages other discussion board posts in order to situate the post within the class discourse." Next, much like you would grade students' traditional paper assignments, you would grade these discussion board posts accordingly. This example of online evidence has much in common with traditional evidence of student learning.

There are emerging forms of assessment unique to online learning, most prominent of which is "learning analytics." Malcolm Brown, Director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative describes "learning analytics" as: "At its core, learning analytics (LA) is the collection and analysis of usage data associated with student learning. The purpose of LA is to observe and understand learning behaviors in order to enable appropriate interventions." Drawing on a slightly older field of Web site analytics, learning analytics provides an opportunity to measure student behavior in a learning management system (LMS) in such a way to draw correlations between that behavior and learning outcomes. Although UW Bothell has not undertaken a learning analytics project yet, the Learning Technologies department would be happy to consult on using LA in a hybrid course.

Links to Assessment Resources

Grading Rubrics