Tests, quizzes, homework, lab exercises, exams. Not exactly pleasant memories from your school years (heck, some people even have nightmares with them, years after they left school), those are some of the typical tools teachers use to assess what their students have learned.
Learning, including e-learning, is an interactive process that’s based on a feedback loop between teacher and student. Teaching alone is not enough – as an educator you have to assess your students’ progress and adjust your delivery accordingly, not only in the course of a school year, but even during a single lesson session.
In this installment we’ll have a look in the tools and methods you have in your e-learning arsenal that can help you assess your students’ skills and their understanding of your courses.
In general there are two kinds of assessment of a student’s progress: qualitative and quantitative. E-learning platforms are usually more adapted to the second, but a good LMS will offer you all the tools you need to assist you in the first too.
E-learning might not usually offer the face-to-face examination of a student (though it can offer that too, in the case of video sessions), but LMS platforms offer a plethora of traditional and novel ways to measure your students’ progress, with the added benefit of automating the tedious manual grading process.
Let’s have a look at some of the tools LMS platforms offer for student assessment and their characteristics within an e-learning context.
1) Tests and quizzes
Whether in a traditional school setting or in e-learning, those two are the bread and butter of measuring student performance. They might not offer a thorough qualitative assessment of a student’s progress, but they can be very effective in exposing problematic areas in his/hers understanding (or simple lack of studying).
E-learning tests have several advantages over the traditional pen and paper tests. They can be randomized, so that each student gets his own personal version of the test (this can help prevent cheating). They can be personalized, so that each student gets a test tailored to his progress thus far. They can incorporate a variety of question types, including multimedia and interactive ones. And, last but not least, they can be graded by the LMS in a matter of seconds.
To take advantage of randomization and personalization of tests and quizzes it’s important to provide the LMS with a large enough pool of questions to draw from, that are target appropriately by skill level. For some platforms these questions can also be prepared on the fly, given a set of basic constraints (e.g such as system could produce random trigonometric questions, in which the various angles and dimensions differ).
Exercises are sort of like quizzes but their primary role is to help the student familiarize himself with the material, rather than assess his command of it. To use a sports analogy, exercises are like practice, whereas tests and quizzes are like sport events and competitions.
That said, exersizes can still be graded, and can serve as an additional indicator of possible issues in the student’s understanding of the course.
Unlike quiz questions, exercises can (and should) be slightly repetitive, so that the student slowly familiarizes with the material and the techniques for answering questions and solving problems based on it.
3) Homework and projects
E-learning, while automating many aspects of the learning process, does not do away with the traditional homework, both in the form of lengthier exercises to be done at the students home and submitted later for evaluation (e.g in a word processor format for an essay, or as a computer program for a programming course) and larger, more involved, course projects that a student (or a group of students) has to work on.
The assessment and grading of homework and course projects is usually done manually, by the supervising or assistant professor(s) handling the e-learning course, but the LMS platform can still automate several aspects of the whole procedure, like automatically accepting student submissions (through file upload), cataloguing and presenting them to the teacher, providing grade entry forms and storing the students’ grades alongside those automatically calculated by the LMS.
4) One-to-one sessions
Alongside tests, quizzes and exercises, a lot of LMS platforms offer the capability of direct teacher and student interaction. This can take the form of a video or audio teleconference session, an online chat, or a combination of the above.
These kind of one-to-one sessions can be especially helpful to get a qualitative assessment of your students, to encourage and assist them with particularly problematic for them parts of the course, and, last but not least, to weed out cheaters.
If there was a specific advantage of e-learning systems with regards to assessing your students that traditional learning doesn’t offer, reporting would be it.
A modern LMS platform can assist the teacher in the evaluation of a student by presenting his progress in all kinds of ways, including in the form of easy to grasp plots and graphs. The latter might sound superficial, but it’s impressive how much more easier they make spotting problems in a student’s performance.
In a modern LMS platform, the grades from every test, quiz, exercise result or homework can be stored, tracked, and presented (even in real time), without all the tedious paperwork that this would entail in the traditional classroom environment.
This is perhaps the most powerful tool that an e-learning educator has in his disposal in order to asses a particular student’s progress or even the overall effectiveness of his courses.