Standard 5. Assessment and feedback


5.0: Course includes frequent and appropriate methods to assess students’ mastery of content.

Consistent and regular assessments help students demonstrate their progress and reveal deficiencies. As students move through an online course, they should encounter regular assignments, activities, and interactions designed to assess how well they have mastered the learning content, and how close they are to meeting program, course, or module learning objectives.

Authentic online assessment is an essential part of an effective high-quality online learning experience. One way to design online learning assessments and evaluations of student learning/mastery is by considering approaches that are more effective and appropriate in online learning environments. For example, instead of relying on one or two high stakes multiple-choice-type exams, consider leveraging assessments that enable students to make their thinking, understanding, and learning visible to both the instructor and fellow classmates in the course for feedback and guidance. Effective practices online include opportunities for more frequent self-assessments, peer evaluation, and formative assessments.

They key to establishing an appropriate assessment strategy is first making sure that established goals are measurable, and then mapping activities back to those goals to see which best lend themselves to conveying learner mastery. According to Palloff & Pratt (2013), “A learner-centered assessment is an assessment that links what the student is learning in the course to the assessment process.” Multiple choice tests and quizzes may be easy to grade, but writing assignments, collaborative exercises, case studies, and interactive discussions provide a more authentic assessment of learner mastery by requiring reflection, synthesis, and the creation of new knowledge.

Students can become lost in online courses that fail to measure mastery on a consistent or regular basis, as they have little to motivate their participation or track their progress. Mastering competencies on a regular basis within an online course helps students succeed by developing competence, understanding, and comprehension, which leads to the ability to demonstrate competence and elicit feedback (Hulleman et al., 2010).


5.1: Criteria for the assessment of a graded assignment are clearly articulated (rubrics, exemplary work).

Rubrics are recommended as a best practice for communicating criteria and achievement levels for assignments in online courses. Elikai and Schuhmann (2010) found that grading policies and associated rubrics motivated learning by associating levels of mastery and performance with a specific grade, and guiding achievement progress.

According to Worlf & Goodwin (2007), rubrics do the following:

  • Make learning targets clearer
  • Guide the design and delivery of instruction
  • Normalize the assessment process
  • Give students self- and peer-assessment guidelines

Guidelines or rubrics for the assessment of graded work should include performance criteria, setting desired performance/proficiency levels for students, and creating performance descriptions. This includes providing details for what constitutes the continuum of accomplishment, from unsatisfactory through to exemplary, and includes grades associated with each level along the continuum. Criteria for grading schemes (points and percentages) and ranges should be clear (what gets and A, B, and so on), and tie directly to the goals and objectives of the assigned work that is to be evaluated.

Showcasing exemplary work provides students with a clear example of what outcomes the assignment demands, and what mastery levels need to be reached. Before posting exemplary work, be sure to get permission from the student whose work you would like to showcase.


5.2: Students have opportunities to review their performance and assess their own learning throughout the course.

Self-assessments provide students with opportunities to check in to see how they are progressing, and often offer opportunities for students to explore more materials if they still need to master concepts or skills. Effective methods include pre-tests, self-assessments, and peer assessments:

  • Pre-tests allow students to better understand what they already know and where they have more to learn, helping them to focus their learning.
  • Self-assessment involves the reviewing of one’s own work, determining what is good, and detailing what needs improvement, also playing a role in student self-efficacy and self-regulation, fostering abilities to construct meaning, and promoting metacognition.
  • Peer-assessment provides students the opportunity to assess the work of others and apply evaluation criteria to it in an objective context that they can then apply to their own work.


5.3: Students are informed when a timed response is required. Proper lead time is provided to ensure there is an opportunity to prepare a time accommodation for qualified students.

Students need clear guidance on when learning activities and assignments are due, and what they need to do to meet those deadlines. Providing guidance on when timed responses are required enables them to anticipate workload and be better organized. It is also helpful for student services like the Disability Resource Center to help the student ensure accommodations are being made when requested.


5.4: Students have easy access to an up-to-date gradebook.

By providing easy access to an up-to-date gradebook, instructors give students the ability to check in on their progress continuously throughout the course term. The added functionality and reporting features enable instructors to review and analyze the gradebook, as well as create reports on student progress and course completion. The instructor’s plan for timely grading and feedback, and expectations for receiving grades and feedback are clearly communicated to students.

The WebCampus Gradebook provides the opportunity to automate, customize, and share grades and feedback with students with relative ease. Students also frequently visit and employ the features of the My Grades tool and expect an accurate and current gradebook throughout the semester. By providing this for students, instructors enable them to check their own progress throughout the semester, which benefits them by seeing which assignments and other graded activities they have not turned in yet.


5.5: Students have multiple opportunities to provide descriptive feedback on course design, course content, course experience, and ease of online technology.

Providing mechanisms where students can offer feedback to the instructor and/or the academic department on navigation, access, and the overall learning experience can guide better design choices to support student success while the course is in progress. Students immersed in the online experience can provide useful feedback on their experience, particularly related to course design and delivery. Additionally, students should have a means of reporting issues, in doing so, they can share in solutions and insights.