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Frequent assessment in accelerated learning: How do I do that?

building-block-growth-strategyToday I presented to a group of faculty on the topic of redesigning an accelerated course based on an existing full-term course. A great little nugget on how to incorporate frequent, formative assessments came from our discussion, and I thought I’d share.

I started our talk by returning us to the basics of course design. We started with a brief exploration of objectivist learning versus constructivist learning to help us form the foundation for creating quality learning outcomes. From here, we talked about how to assess those measurable outcomes. We know, from work out of Quality Matters, the Online Learning Consortium and others, that any well-designed course starts with strong, precise, measurable learning outcomes.

I then shifted our talk to assessment and the notion that smaller, more frequent formative assessments work better in accelerated courses than larger summative assessments. In an accelerated course, summative assessments, like exams or large projects, induce cramming and panic–two behaviors you desperately want to avoid in an accelerated course. Instead, assessing students more frequently and in less intimidating ways can lead to improved student success and retention. But how do you do that effectively in an accelerated (in this case online) course?

One faculty member shared with us the idea that she has students perform a self-assessment at the beginning of the term to determine how much time they should spend with introductory material. She bases this self-review on concepts from prior classes and basics materials that she introduces first in her course. But what if we adapted that strategy to a unit or modular level?

Introducing a short knowledge assessment at the beginning of each unit (designed in alignment with the learning outcomes) would provide a starting point for both students and faculty. Noting where students performed low or scored well would indicate where both student and faculty should place emphasis. If this same smaller assessment were performed at the end of the unit, faculty could determine how well students were meeting outcomes. Or, they would indicate where faculty needed to spend additional time reviewing as they moved to the  next unit or module.

You might be thinking, “Aren’t these the same as short quizzes over material?” Yes, and no. Yes, these are short quizzes, but the emphasis on these isn’t grades. These low-stakes assessments (perhaps not even graded) emphasize attainment of outcomes rather than penalizing students based on performance.

So, I’ll be giving this a try in my courses, and I’m curious if you have other ideas to share regarding incorporating formative assessments in accelerated courses.

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