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Assessment Strategies for Online Learning: Engagement and Authenticity

Issues in Distance Education

Series editor: Terry Anderson

Titles in the Series

The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, Second Edition
Edited by Terry Anderson

Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training
Edited by Mohamed Ally

A Designer’s Log: Case Studies in Instructional Design
Michael Power

Accessible Elements: Teaching Science Online and at a Distance
Edited by Dietmar Kennepohl and Lawton Shaw

Emerging Technologies in Distance Education
Edited by George Veletsianos

Flexible Pedagogy, Flexible Practice: Notes from the Trenches of Distance Education
Edited by Elizabeth Burge, Chère Campbell Gibson, and Terry Gibson

Teaching in Blended Learning Environments: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Inquiry
Norman D. Vaughan, Martha Cleveland-Innes, and D. Randy Garrison

Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda
Edited by Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Terry Anderson

Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media
Jon Dron and Terry Anderson

Learning in Virtual Worlds: Research and Applications
Edited by Sue Gregory, Mark J. W. Lee, Barney Dalgarno, and Belinda Tynan

Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications
Edited by George Veletsianos

An Online Doctorate for Researching Professionals
Swapna Kumar and Kara Dawson

Assessment Strategies for Online Learning: Engagement and Authenticity
Dianne Conrad and Jason Openo

Assessment Strategies for Online Learning

Engagement and Authenticity

Dianne Conrad and Jason Openo

Athabasca University Press logo

Contents

FOREWORD

PREFACE

1. The Big Picture: A Framework for Assessment in Online Learning

2. The Contribution of Adult Education Principles to Online Learning and Assessment

3. What Do You Believe? The Importance of Beliefs about Teaching and Learning in Online Assessment

4. Authenticity and Engagement: The Question of Quality in Assessment

5. Assessment Using E-Portfolios, Journals, Projects, and Group Work

6. The Age of “Open”: Alternative Assessments, Flexible Learning, Badges, and Accreditation

7. Planning an Assessment and Evaluation Strategy—Authentically

8. Flexible, Flipped, and Blended: Technology and New Possibilities in Learning and Assessment

9. A Few Words on Self-Assessment

10. Summing Up

APPENDIX Other Voices: Reflections from the Field

REFERENCES

INDEX

Foreword

Dianne Conrad and Jason Openo are problem-solvers. If one were to prioritize all the problems, challenges, and disagreements that have become fodder in debates within formal education, assessment would top the list for both teachers and for learners. Therefore, this is an important text, relevant to teaching and learning at any level, context, or use of technological support. Even more interestingly, the authors have focused their discussion on the special challenges and opportunities associated with online learning.

It has become popular to recite enrolment figures showing consistent global increases in the number of learners taking online courses; the number of institutions running and credentialing these courses; and the number of teachers struggling and gaining experience and skills to work effectively in this digital context. However, e-learning or online learning is but a subset of ways that education can be, and has been, distributed for the past 100 years. And, while they are distance educators, both Conrad and Openo have teaching experience that pre-dates the ascendancy of the Internet. This book brings forward their personal experience and insight, while presenting significant data gleaned from the extensive database of research literature both old and new.

This is clearly an innovative scholarly work. And though some readers may feel overwhelmed by the number of references and quotations sprinkled throughout the text, the book flows nicely from establishing a broad theoretical basis for online learning, through the asynchronous discussion-based learning model, to highlighting promising techniques and practices including group work, as well as self- and peer-assessment. The text also provides insightful glimpses of the assessment issues that have arisen alongside emergent forms of online learning including blended learning, the flipped classroom, MOOCs, wikis and badges.

Assessment is a dominant issue in higher education. In the 1990s, I recall being thrilled about the establishment of a research centre focused on student assessment at the large research university where I worked. I was however disappointed when I attended a few seminars and read papers from this group, as they had focused on creating valid multiple-choice exam questions using item analysis and statistical modelling that had little application to my own teaching of graduate students. Thankfully, this book is not that type of book! What you will find is theory, research, and very practical advice about the forms of higher education that are based on constructivist—with perhaps just a hint of connectivist—pedagogy. Constructivist teaching and learning pedagogy has evolved into a dominant form of education in the social sciences and humanities. Thus, don’t expect tips on writing multiple-choice exams or learning analytics. However, you can expect very detailed discussions of the ways that learning can be assessed on individual and group levels, even as it is individually constructed in the minds and contexts of each learner.

There is much to recommend and a great deal of insightful knowledge in this text. It will appeal to practising teachers (even for those bound to classrooms); to professionals working as learning designers or developers to support teachers; and finally, to graduate students and online learning researchers. These latter two groups will no doubt use the text as a springboard to the many references and quotations that buttress and provide scholarly support to the ideas presented.

Finally, I’m thankful to the authors for publishing this text as an open access work. As the text highlights, we are entering an era of openness in scholarship. Since at least the 16th century, we have known of science and learning as a collaborative enterprise, which is best stated by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” There are many intellectual titans in our universities today; however, many of their best ideas, experiments and insights are locked behind paywalls erected by commercial publishers. This is especially vexing as many practising teachers, even in affluent countries, do not have access to complete scholarly libraries, and those working in developing countries have almost no opportunity to, as it were, see further. This situation has changed and continues to evolve as more institutions, publishers, and authors embrace and benefit from open access to scholarly works. This text proudly takes its place (along with the dozen other titles) in the Issues in Distance Education series from Athabasca University Press. As series editor, I thank the authors for choosing to publish this work as an open resource. I also here commend Athabasca University for supporting the Press and the many reviewers and professional editors who have contributed to the work. As readers, you actually have an opportunity to thank these folks yourself, by ordering (and paying for) a hard copy or e-text—even after you have read it for free!

Terry Anderson, Professor Emeritus
Athabasca University

Preface

If we wish to discover the truth about an educational system, we just look into its assessment procedures. (Rowntree, 1977, p. 1)

Assessment. Evaluation. Grading. Do these terms equate simply to “judgment”? To success or non-success? For many learners, and also for many teachers and administrators, they do. But should they? We take the position that discussions of assessment or evaluation should not connect, on first principles, to the stringencies of judgment but rather to the potential of learning.

This is by no means a novel position. Learning theories have long embraced assessment as a central actor in the cycle of learning. However, the introduction and pervasive growth of distance education—specifically online learning or e-learning—in the last several decades has opened new doors for old questions about assessment: Why does learning require assessment? What kinds of assessment best honour and respect the learner? And the newer, distance-related questions: What kinds of assessment can measure learning activity that occurs at a distance? Can traditional forms of assessment continue to serve us well? (And its tacit corollary question: Did traditional forms of assessment ever serve us well?)

This book will not help you to construct a test or an exam. We will not elaborate on the affordances of technology or the intricacies of the hardware or software that support online learning. We do not discuss institutional assessment, or course or program evaluation; we deal only with the assessment of learning. Within that, we restrict our discussion to higher education, and, within that, we do not address the complexities of teaching and learning in the hard sciences.

The 2010 JISC Effective Assessment in a Digital Age report recently indicated that,

despite potential benefits, adoption in higher education of the more complex opportunities made possible by technology is variable. Without departmental champions to support implementation, take-up of the more challenging aspects of e-assessment, especially in the context of summative assessment, has been slow. (p. 7)

In this volume, our objective is to discuss the assessment of online learning in higher education in meaningful and authentic ways. We are guided by constructivist philosophy and are concerned with the breadth and depth of assessment approaches, strategies, and techniques in the humanities and social sciences. While those who are engaged in more scientific fields may find useful material in these pages, we recognize that their areas of instruction employ, of necessity, alternative forms of assessment and evaluation.

Certainly, we hope that the material herein will be useful to teachers engaged in online teaching and learning, as well as those who would like to become involved in online teaching but are either hesitant or have not yet been given the opportunity. We feel that course designers and developers, as well as those involved in any way with curriculum, learning outcomes, or learning strategies, or those creating learning materials of any sort, will benefit from this read. We hope that graduate students interested in online learning and assessment or issues of quality, will find the book useful. Those who are engaged in online training in business and industry environments might also benefit. And, of course, we would like our colleagues and scholars in the field to explore these pages and make some use of them.

Structure and Organization

The book starts with a “big picture” framework that locates issues of assessment within the context of online learning, beginning with an overview of history, theory, definitions, and presenting a discussion of issues both underlying and concerning online assessment. There are many. We examine online learning’s evolution from basic pedagogical principles, and we address questions of pedagogy and epistemology, of guiding philosophies, and of the nature of online learning so as to establish a framework for the assessment discussion. Assessment itself includes the logistics of what, when, why, and how, and of issues of authenticity and engagement. As it unfolds, the book narrows its focus to address specific aspects of assessment, including alternate forms of assessment arising from open learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open educational resources (OER), blended and flexible learning, self-assessment, and social media’s impact on assessment practice.

While we have tried to roll out a discussion on online assessment in a logical, sequential fashion, many concepts are inextricably interrelated. How can we tease out constructivism from a discussion of group work? How can learning outcomes be separated from course design? We have indicated as clearly as we can where to find various connected discussions within the book.

While it should be noted that this is not a book that will instruct readers on how to build tests or examinations, that this is not a guide to measurement—to questions of reliability, validity, or scoring—its pages nonetheless present many opportunities for immediate application to online learning environments, outlining strategies for appropriate evaluation planning and for creative and authentic assessments.

At the end of the book, we include an appendix entitled “Other Voices: Reflections from the Field” in which we share responses from colleagues on questions of assessment from their own practices. We hope that you find this supplementary material accessible and useful.

Assessment Strategies for Online Learning

1   |   The Big Picture

A Framework for Assessment in Online Learning

Writing a book about assessment is tricky business for a number of reasons. Assessment has been described as “the heart of the student experience” and is “probably the single biggest influence on how students approach their learning” (Rust, O’Donovan, & Price, 2005, p. 231). Assessment is also highly emotional; students describe it as a process that evokes fear, anxiety, and stress (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013, p. 81). It is fair to say that “nowhere are the stakes and student interest more focused than on assessment” (Campbell & Schwier, 2014, p. 360). A book on assessment goes to the heart of the complex dynamics of teaching and learning. As authors, we choose to wrangle with all the assumptions and ideologies of postsecondary education. Assessment in technologically mediated contexts adds another level of complexity to an already emotionally charged topic.

As such, a book on online assessment theory and practice, in particular, has never been more needed. In the annual Sloan Online Survey (Allen & Seaman, 2016), the proportion of chief academic leaders who report that online education is a critical component of their long-term strategy stood at 63.3% in 2015 (p. 5), with 2.8 million students taking all of their higher education instruction at a distance in the fall of 2014 (p. 10) and more than one in four students (28%) taking some of their courses at a distance, an all-time high in the United States. Distance courses “seem to have become a common part of the course delivery modality for many students” (p. 12). The growth of online education could see the migration of the worst aspects of traditional assessment into a new medium. Or, it could provide the opportunity to take an entirely fresh look, keeping the best of the traditional approaches while improving and innovating, supported by advances in technology.

Assessment is also connected to emerging perceptions of quality and the evolving nature of quality assurance processes within postsecondary education. Key trends in higher education have heightened focus on student assessment, especially in terms of online learning contexts, accountability, and the increasing scrutiny of the ability of colleges and universities to report performance outcomes (Newman, 2015).

Openo et al. (2017) contend that, at present, there is little connection between quality assurance indicators and quality teaching in provincial quality assurance frameworks, and that quality assurance reporting mechanisms are ill-defined. These gaps represent an important deficiency in provincial oversight of postsecondary education, where, increasingly, accreditation processes require detailed curriculum maps linking core competencies with assessment measures.

The need for robust quality assurance processes responds both to the still-lingering perception that online learning is ineffective or not as effective and the precipitous increase in online learning, which is becoming recognized as a crucial 21st-century skill, not just a mode of delivery. Online learning, according to Latchem (2014), “ceases to be mere delivery of digital learning products for the students’ consumption and becomes a platform whereupon knowledge and learning are created by students through interaction, collaboration and inquiry” (p. 311).

The increasing demographic of adult learners (many of whom will study online) who want to gain competencies desired by employers has also led to a heightened awareness of the challenges and opportunities in assessment. A 2015 study from Colleges Ontario shows that 44% of current Canadian college students already possess postsecondary experience and return to college for the purposes of finding “that extra piece that makes them employable” or to “upgrade skills in a particular area” (Ginsberg, 2015, para. 4).

Any discussion of assessment must confront one of the great current debates in higher education. Educational goals once centred on individualization and personal development (what does it mean to be alive and human?), cultivating informed and active citizens, developing intrinsically valuable knowledge, and serving society through the public interest have narrowed. The perceived purpose of educational attainment has since narrowed to serving society through economic development. Wall, Hursh, and Rodgers (2014) define assessment as “a set of activities that seeks to gather systematic evidence to determine the worth and value of things in higher education” (p. 6), including the examination of student learning. They assert that assessment “serves an emerging market-focused university” (p. 6).

This narrower focus has led some to suggest that students “come into play only as potential bearers of skills producing economic value rather than as human beings in their own right” (Barnett & Coate, 2005, p. 24). Carnevale (2016) would both agree and disagree with this statement. He notes the irreconcilable ideas of democratic citizenship and markets, and yet he also recognizes that (like it or not) postsecondary education has become the United States and Canada’s primary workforce development system. The focus on postsecondary education as a process of skills development to increase wages and one’s social position leads to a double-edged sword. As “both a fountain of opportunity and a bastion of privilege” (Carnevale, 2016, p. 16), education becomes both equalizer and source of inequality. While we do not take a position on related issues of social justice and citizenship in this book, we do recognize that learning, assessment, and tangible outcomes are inextricably linked, and that “one of the most telling indicators of the quality of educational outcomes is the work students submit for assessment” (Gibbs, 2010, p. 7).

Assessment, then, provides evidence of the outcome in any outcomes-based approach to education. In Ontario, for example, “postsecondary learning outcomes are rapidly replacing credit hours as the preferred unit of measurement for learning,” but “the expanded presence of learning outcomes at the postsecondary level has outstripped our abilities to validate those outcomes through assessment” (Deller, Brumwell, & MacFarlane, 2015, p. 2). Assessment practices are also increasingly focused on demonstrating acquisition of learning outcomes for the “purposes of accountability and quality measurement,” because such measurement aligns with market-oriented aims, including closing the Canadian “skills gap,” which causes Canada to lose as much as $24.3 billion dollars per year in economic activity (Bountrogianni, 2015). The perspective of students as potential bearers of skills to support economic development drives the move toward authentic assessment, where students can provide direct evidence of having meaningfully applied their learning (Goff et al., 2015). Using skills, knowledge, values, and attitudes they have learned in “the performance context of the intended discipline” (Goff et al., p. 13), learners simulate real-world problems in their discipline or profession. The purpose of this book is to support a move toward a new era of assessment and away from the current era, where “the field of educational assessment is currently divided and in disarray” (Hill & Barber, 2014, p. 24).

Aspects of Online Learning

The move to online learning in recent decades has raised questions about the nature of assessment with courses and programs. Is it the same? Is it different? How best to do it? This shift in assessment has moved like a glacier, slowly and yet with dramatic effect. The “traditional view of assessment defines its primary role as evaluating a student’s comprehension of factual knowledge,” whereas a more contemporary definition “sees assessment as activities designed primarily to foster student learning” (Webber, 2012, p. 202). Examples of learner-centred assessment activities include “multiple drafts of written work in which faculty provide constructive and progressive feedback, oral presentations by students, student evaluations of other’s work, group and team projects that produce a joint product related to specified learning outcomes, and service learning assignments that require interactions with individuals, the community or business/industry” (Webber, 2012, p. 203). As Webber points out, there is a growing body of evidence from multiple disciplines (Dexter, 2007; Candela et. al., 2006; Gerdy, 2002) illustrating the benefits of learner-centred assessment, but these examples “do not provide convincing evidence that reform has actually occurred” (Webber, 2012, p. 203). The Appendix to this book includes examples from “reformers” who are gradually transforming the assessment landscape by innovating and incorporating new assessment approaches in online learning contexts.

We begin this discussion by first considering online learning, what it is, and how it serves learners. Now referred to as the fifth or sixth generation of distance education, online learning could be defined in terms of a spectrum of percentages (i.e., of time spent online). Some have defined it as learning done entirely online (Allen & Seaman, 2015), where most or all the content is delivered online with typically no face-to-face meetings. Others see online learning as an alternative access mode for the non-traditional and disenfranchised (Conrad, 2002), including both “busy professionals who travel extensively and unskilled labourers employed in jobs with inflexible hours that make a traditional school schedule unworkable” (Benson, 2002, p. 443). Some see online learning as a “new and improved” version of distance learning, where the affordances of online learning and the introduction of blended learning will surpass, in quality, what we have expected and accepted from the face-to-face classroom (Hiltz & Turoff, 2005). As Prinsloo (2017) observes: “We are trying to describe a very dynamic and fast-changing phenomenon, and the terminology often struggles to keep up with the reality of what’s happening” (slide 41).

All of these definitions of online and blended learning can seem confusing or limiting, especially when “many distance education institutions, particularly the large-scale distance teaching universities, do not yet employ the electronic media as their main delivery medium, and most of the online education takes place at mainstream campus universities” (Guri-Rosenblit, 2014, p. 109). The questions of space and place become not just definitional but philosophical and ultimately pedagogical, as will be discussed in Chapter 3.

Among these many complex notions, a solid place to start a discussion of online learning and its affordances is at its technological ground zero, all the while keeping foremost in mind Salmon’s adage: “Don’t ask what the technology can do for you, rather [ask] what the pedagogy needs” (cited in JISC, 2010). What does the enhancement of learning by technology offer assessment practices? The 2010 JISC report names these eight advantages:

Greater variety and authenticity in the design of assessments;

• Improved learner engagement, for example through interactive formative assessments with adaptive feedback;

• Choice in the timing and location of assessments;

• Capture of wider skills and attributes not easily assessed by other means, for example through simulations, e-portfolios and interactive games;

• Efficient submission, marking, moderation and data storage processes;

• Consistent, accurate results with opportunities to combine human and computer marking;

• Increased opportunities for learners to act on feedback, for example by reflection in e-portfolios;

• Innovative approaches based around use of creative media and online peer and self-assessment; Accurate, timely and accessible evidence on the effectiveness of curriculum design and delivery. (p. 9)

Online learning is also referred to, more or less synonymously, as e-learning. We will use the term online learning in this book and consider it a subset of the broader term open and distributed learning (ODL). The authors do not suggest that it is possible to offer a conclusive definition of “online learning,” but we acknowledge key components of all offered definitions, such as the use of a personal computer or other mobile device connected to the World Wide Web using either a cable or wireless protocol, and the ability to make use of text-based, audio, and audio-visual communications that afford instructors the opportunity to create multifaceted and multidimensional instructional delivery systems. Or, as Dron (2014) has described it, “emerging systems” of instruction capable of being assembled and integrated “at a depth of sophistication that we have never seen before” (p. 260).

Online learning has exploded in recent years, as mentioned above. Once the purview of ODL single-mode institutions, online courses are now offered by most bi-modal and traditional higher education institutions. Online learning and ODL are subsets of the broader term “distance education,” which itself was nurtured by tenets of adult education. (See Chapter 2 for this discussion.) Given this long developmental history, it is not surprising that the nature and shape of online learning has grown and benefited from the work of many theorists along the way. While it’s not our intention to provide a comprehensive history of the field, a few major contributors should be acknowledged.

The foundational definition of distance education revolves around the separation of teacher from learner. “Separation” is most easily understood as a geographical separation, but in online learning, it can also be a separation in time. The term asynchronous refers to communication and interaction within online courses that occur at different times—times of the learners’ and teachers’ choice. In this work, we would like to turn away from the notion of “separation”—as it connotes some form of deficit—to one of “transcendence.” When usefully applied, we maintain, technology can transcend the separation of space and time as a limiting factor due to the interactivity of Internet-based communications technology. Keegan (2005) has argued that teaching and learning is essentially composed of interaction and intersubjectivity where teacher and learner are united in a common purpoose.

Michael Moore famously addressed the notion of distance, which he referred to as independent study distance, in 1973 in what became the Theory of Transactional Distance. In it, he related studying at a distance to issues of structure, autonomy and control, and dialogue. His theory holds that a distance measured psychologically and physically between learner and teacher presents potential misunderstanding in communication; therefore, that space needs to be minimized. The level of dialogue, the structure of the learning, and the degree of autonomy of learners are the factors that must work together to reduce transactional distance and ensure meaningful learning (Moore, 1993).

Even earlier, Charles Wedemeyer had outlined his vision for independent study in higher education in 1981. He too saw potential for undue separation of teacher from learner in the name of choice and flexibility. His Theory of Independent Study gave more freedom to the learner while also placing more responsibility on the learner; but he also emphasized the need for good communication and a relationship between teacher and learner (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 43). In this, Wedemeyer is the predecessor to Anderson’s observation that there is a tension between giving a student the full freedom of independent study and the instructional and learning benefits derived from participation in a learning community.

Contrary to popular belief, the major motivation for enrolment in distance education is not physical access, but rather, temporal freedom to move through a course of studies at a pace of the student’s choice. Participation in a community of learners almost inevitably places constraints on this independence, even when the pressure of synchronous connection is eliminated by use of asynchronous communications tools. The demands of a learning-centered context might at times force us to modify the prescriptive participation in communities of learning, even though we might have evidence that such participation will further advance knowledge creation and attention. (Anderson, 2004, para. 3, emphasis added)

In 1988, Otto Peters’s Theory of Industrialization of Teaching looked into the future using theories of economics and industry to emphasize the need for mechanization, economies of scale, standardization, and careful planning and organization. Harsh as Peters’s conceptualization of learning at a distance may sound, Saba (2014) outlines how Peters’s thinking may have presaged the ongoing evolution of online learning, given the advent of new social media technologies:

As personal technologies of communication, such as social media, became ubiquitous and faculty will be able to present mass personalized instruction to the learners with some level of standardization, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic between faculty and administrators change in the postmodern era.

From Sweden, Börje Holmberg introduced his Theory of Interaction and Communication in 1985. Although Moore (1993) categorized Holmberg’s theory as a “smaller” theory than Peters’s, it could be argued that interaction and communication is the more relevant theory in our discussion of teaching, learning, and assessment. Holmberg’s seven assumptions underlying teaching and learning effectiveness include issues of emotional involvement, personal relationships, motivation, interaction, and this: “The effectiveness of teaching is demonstrated by students’ learning of what has been taught” (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 48).

In 1995, Holmberg expanded his theory considerably, incorporating many aspects of distance education that had become characteristic of distance pedagogy; he wrote about “deep learning,” about empathy, about “liberal” study and the benefits to society, and about the flexibility offered to a heterogeneous group of learners. He pronounced distance education an “instrument for recurrent and lifelong learning and for free access to learning opportunities and equity” (Simonson et al., p. 49). And while “free access” is, in many cases, wishful thinking, it is important to note here the parallel of adult educators, further discussed in Chapter 2 of this text.

Referring to Malcolm Knowles’s Theory of Andragogy, Simonson et al. (2012) cemented the connection of distance education to adult education in this way: “Most now consider Knowles’s work to be a theory of distance education; it is relevant because most often adults are involved in distance education, and andragogy deals with frameworks for programs designed for the adult learner” (p. 50).

To recap, then, pioneer distance educators stipulated conditions for which teaching and learning at a distance, with teacher separated from learners, could occur. Over the years and with advancements in Internet computer technology, online learning evolved as the preferred delivery mode. The capacity of Internet computer technology to provide online learners with deep and meaningful learning opportunities fostered a huge body of new literature that addressed technical affordances and pedagogy. While foundational theories contributing to online learning were well understood, deconstructing online learning itself has led mainly to discussions of teaching-learning theory and to the presentation of guidelines, strategies, models, and best practices. Online educators have no shortage of sources and materials to instruct them on “how” to engage with their learners. Learners have no shortage of resources to help them acclimate to the online medium or develop an online educational presence. Anderson (2008), in discussing the movement toward theory development, presented several models outlining the online process, but concluded that “the models presented . . . do not yet constitute a theory of online learning per se, but hopefully they will help us to deepen our understanding of this complex educational context” (p. 68).

From Technology to Interaction, Community, and Learner-Centred Pedagogy

Along the trail of developments in technology that both initiated and hallmarked online learning, there was an interest-shift from what technology could do to what learners could do, to how they would enable their learning through the technology available to them—in other words, a shift from a technology-orientation to a pedagogical orientation (Blanton, Moorman, & Trathan, 1998). We examine this shift here in terms of two central topics, which are not mutually exclusive: interaction and the Community of Inquiry (CoI). The related themes could be described as: (a) communication and its resultant interaction are key to online learning success; and (b) healthy learning communities engender appropriate and relevant levels of interaction.

Moore (1989), Wagner (1997), and Anderson and Garrison (1998) provided important early insights into the nature of interaction in computer-enhanced learning. Moore’s initial categorization of three types of interaction—learner-learner, learner-content, and learner-instructor—was expanded into six possible types of interaction by Anderson and Garrison, who first broached the possibility of content interacting with content, foreshadowing semantic Web developments (1998). These discussions eventually included domains of interactions (cognitive, affective), frequencies of interaction, gender-specific interactions, and cultural-specific interactions (Conrad, 2009; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Jeong, 2007; McLoughlin & Oliver, 2000).

In 1998, Wenger’s seminal work on communities of practice in the workplace laid the current foundation for the consideration of community-based interaction and communication. At about the same time, Garrison, Anderson, Archer, and Rourke’s research on online presence (1998–2001) built on the concept of community and presented a new schema for understanding online learning in terms of cognitive, instructional, and social domains (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). From that research evolved the equally important theory of CoI, defined as “a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements—social, cognitive and teaching presence” (CoI website). The CoI model has subsequently launched another stream of investigative research into the effects and relationships of its respective parts (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Cleveland-Innis, Shea, & Swan, 2007).

A parallel and not-unrelated research stream was also dependent on Wenger (1998), Wilson, Ludwig-Hardman, Thornam, and Dunlap (2004), Stacey (1999), Bullen (1998) and Wegerif (1998), and some of the early work from Gundawardena and her colleagues (1995; 1997). It drew at the same time on adult education and learning theory literature to discuss community not as a learning laboratory per se but as an affective, social landscape. Tied most closely with Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s social presence literature (2000), this understanding of community focused on relationship-based interaction where “like-minded groups of people share[d] goals or special occasions” (Conrad, 2002). This understanding of community, taken from schools of social learning theory (Bandura, 1986; Vygotsky, 1978), moved the communication and interaction discourse closer to Garton, Haythornthwaite, and Wellman’s (1997) prescient work on online social networking and also capitalized on adult learning theories from the works of adult educators K. Patricia Cross (1981), Dewey (1938), Knowles (1970), and Wlodkowski (1999).

The evolution from online learning’s early technology-based curiosity to a more pedagogically based concern with learners and their learning has benefited from two recent theoretical centres—constructivism and blended learning. Building on those foundational pieces, scholars from around the world have contributed to our current understanding of online learning (Akyol & Garrison, 2008; Dron, 2007; Kirschner, Strijbos, & Kreijns, 2004; Mayes, 2006; Shih & Swan, 2005; Swan, 2002; Wilson et al., 2004).

The Community of Inquiry and Assessment

While it is not within the scope of this book to give CoI thorough and comprehensive coverage, we present it here as a very useful model of online learning and note that the CoI’s approach to assessment very much falls in line with the spirit of a new era of assessment. Within the CoI framework, assessment is part of “teaching presence,” the unifying force that “brings together the social and cognitive processes directed to personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile outcomes” (Vaughan, Garrison, & Cleveland-Innes, 2013, p. 12). Teaching presence consists of design, facilitation, and direction of a community of inquiry, and design includes assessment, along with organization and delivery. “Assessment very much shapes the quality of learning and the quality of teaching. In short, students do what is rewarded. For this reason, one must be sure to reward activities that encourage deep and meaningful approaches to learning” (Vaughan et al., 2013, p. 42).

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1. Creating an Educational Experience. The framework for a Community of Inquiry. Source: Garrison, R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Vaughan, N. (n. d.).

In designing assessment through the CoI lens, it is essential to plan and design for the maximum amount of student feedback. “The research literature is clear that feedback is arguably the most important part in its potential to affect future learning and student achievement” (Rust et al., 2005, p. 234). Good feedback helps clarify what good performance is, facilitates self-assessment and reflection, encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning, encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem, provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance, and can be used by instructors to help shape teaching (Vaughan et al., 2013).

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment or evaluation? What is the difference between the two? First, it should be made clear that the two terms are often used interchangeably, perhaps due to carelessness, but perhaps also due to a lack of understanding of their respective meanings and the subsequent scope of application of each term. In her guide to assessment, Walvoord (2010) offers this definition: “Assessment is the systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available, in order to inform decisions that affect student learning” (p. 2). Similarly, in their text on evaluation, Fenwick and Parsons (2009) define evaluation as “the systematic collection and analysis of data needed to make decisions” (p. 3). The confusion begins here, with two definitions that are similar. We note also that Fenwick and Parsons point out that “evaluation” has long carried a negative connotation of being tested. We hold that this is one of the reasons that the gentler term “assessment” has become popular. Keeping in mind the constant intermingling of the two terms, we attempt here to pull them apart, beginning with Angelo and Cross’s (1993) seminal work.

Angelo and Cross (1993) define assessment as an interactive process between students and teachers that informs teachers how well their students are learning what they are teaching. They continue, “t

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