Guest Blog Post: Reimagining assessment online


Christopher Sessums, PhD, Director, Academic Affairs, D2L Ltd, OLC Innovate 2020 Gold Sponsor

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If you think about it, what really drives the learning process is assessment. Learners need feedback about whether they are learning the intended skills and content knowledge or not. Instructors need to know whether their pedagogical approaches are working, that each student is learning, and that they are helping their class grow and progress. And administrators and policy makers need this information to inform decisions about what’s working and where improvements and additional action is warranted. Essentially, assessments provide the necessary feedback for the improvement of learning and educational systems at large.

Undoubtedly, one test or assessment cannot serve all requirements for every audience. Yet assessments can serve a broad range of purposes and be remarkably effective if they are thoughtfully designed using a wide range of strategies suited to specific purposes.

Assessments are often defined in two ways: formative and summative – formative being a diagnostic means of determining where learners are in the process of acquiring and mastering the intended subject matter; and summative being a final or capstone project, presentation, or exam that’s intended to learner’s to show or clearly demonstrate content mastery. So when we think about assessment in an online setting, we have an incredible opportunity to rethink assessments and how learners can represent knowledge and develop their expertise. Conventional quizzes, exams, and term papers aside, here are a handful of ways to re-think about how we might do that:

Project Based Learning

Project-based learning is an approach to learning where students actively explore real-world problems and challenges while acquiring deeper knowledge and experience. Assessment in this context can be authentic forms of knowledge checking like situation reports, progress updates, and peer feedback to ensure learners are staying on target, on-task, and getting the support and resources they need to help them demonstrate and achieve mastery. Online learning can support these levels of engagement and assessment easily through email, forums, video, and polls.

Polls and Surveys

Polling or surveying students on a regular basis is a great way to quickly assess whether learners are “getting” the material being presented to them. Online environments provide an easy mechanism to ask learners key questions, aggregate the results, and allow the instructor to adjust pedagogical tactics or strategies as needed.

Leveraging Video

Video is particularly useful for performance and observation-based assessments and feedback. It can be used to capture and share activities such as oral reports, group presentations, and physical performances, and can be used to facilitate, record, and share instructor and peer feedback quickly.

Adopting Rubrics

Rubrics are scoring guides that offer a clear set of criteria for assessing learning activities. What makes them work well in an online environment is that they can reduce confusion for students around what is expected of them. This is especially important in an online setting given the transactional distance an online learning experience entails. By being crystal clear about what you’re looking for as an instructor helps make online learners feel more confident in terms of understanding what is being asked of them.


Self-assessment is the process of reflecting on one’s own state-of-affairs. They are quite handy in online or off-line settings as they give the instructor the opportunity to peer inside a student’s mind to see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, and if and where they need additional support or assistance. In an online setting they can help bridge physical and cognitive distances that many online learners find themselves experiencing. Learning logs are a good example of a self-assessment activity that can be supported online, where an instructor can ask students to document and share their learning throughout the course.

Without a doubt, assessment drives the learning process. It has a deep and powerful impact on learners, instruction, and educational policy. As instructors and institutions transition to online teaching and learning models, now is the perfect time to rethink and reimagine what assessment can look like and how it can best serve the needs of learners, instructors, and society as a whole.

About D2L

D2L believes learning is the foundation upon which all progress and achievement rests. D2L has transformed the way millions of people learn online and in the classroom. Learn more about D2L for Higher Education at D2L was a gold sponsor for the recent OLC Innovate 2020 Virtual Conference.

Missed the Live Conference? No Problem!

It’s not too late to get access to this amazing, first-ever OLC virtual conference! ALL SESSION RECORDINGS AVAILABLE: Get nearly 300 session recordings from OLC Innovate 2020: Building Bridges in Digital, Blended, & Online Learning. Recordings include four special summits – HCBU, Research, Community College, and Leadership as well as Keynote Presentations by Maha Bali and Martin Weller. 

See full details and register here. Please email if you have any questions.

Christopher Sessums, PhD; Academic Affairs Director, D2L

Dr. Christopher Sessums is Director of Academic Affairs at D2L where he works with higher education institutions across the globe to optimize learner success and institutional efficiencies. Prior to joining D2L, Christopher served as a faculty member and administrator at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, at the University of California Berkeley, and at the University of Florida. His research interests include educational technology and teacher professional learning.




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