Changing Assessments for Online Classes
A few weeks ago, teaching introductory biology online to my 300+ students was not even a remote consideration. Now it’s reality. My first thought was that it couldn’t be done, but that wasn’t an option. How can I deliver a highly planned, interactive lecture course online and provide the different assessments I regularly use? For example, I use clicker-based case studies and quizzes daily as central parts of my teaching. Inquiry-driven labs are integrated with the lecture to reinforce concepts and give students opportunities to explore topics. How do I take that online?
While we can’t fully recreate the dynamic learning environment of a classroom or lab online, we can thoughtfully and purposefully pull together the resources we have available to provide the fundamental core of the learning experience. One challenge many of us face as we take this journey onto a new learning landscape is how to realistically assess student learning outcomes.
The first step is to reevaluate our student learning outcomes and identify the essential elements of what students should know or be able to do upon completing our classes in the new format. Once I identified my class’s elements, I focused my efforts on those core items. There are definitely side topics and activities we include in the classroom for fun; other topics are complex and cannot be rapidly transformed into an online assignment. Accept that and put them on the shelf until another time. It might be hard to give up a favorite exercise we love, but it’s important to understand what students need now and what we can deliver quickly. Focus attention on what can and must be covered for your students to continue their education.
The second step is determining how students can demonstrate knowledge or skills and the acceptable level of proficiency under remote learning conditions. Outcomes should go beyond to “know” or “understand” and instead be a definite action that can be done with specific resources, such as “describe the pattern of behavior by birds as shown in a figure” or maybe “calculate a statistic and interpret the results from a data set.” A quick review of Bloom’s taxonomy and associated action verbs can be a way to catalyze this pedagogical reaction.
Many of my colleagues are concerned about tests, which will basically be “open book” when delivered online. That should be our cue to rethink the kinds of questions we are asking. Instead of a multiple-choice exam based on memory and recall, provide a figure or table such as a BioInteractive Data Point, and ask a series of True-False questions that require students to interpret the data. This multiple True-False format can effectively explore whether the data can be interpreted a particular way, if the results support a given conclusion, or how the results relate to a particular hypothesis (Couch et al. 2018). In other words, if the old style of questions won’t work, then we need to develop better questions.
The third step is to explore alternative ways to engage students for assessment. Where a quiz may have been used before, a short writing assignment may need to be used instead. If you are now unable to ask questions during class, explore use of online activities and case studies on BioInteractive. Interactive Click & Learn modules on viruses and epidemics could not be more timely. Complete video case studies on fungicides and bees, searching for mutated genes, and elephant communication are also ready to assign; each case study comes with questions that appear at automatic pause points and allows students to save their answers. You can design your own question sets for use with any video or use one of the existing video resources on sites such as Edpuzzle or TED-Ed.
There are a number of excellent resources available on BioInteractive that we can all implement immediately or modify easily for our students. Although you may not be able to grade or score them in the same way you normally would, remember an important part of the learning journey is the journey itself and that giving students meaningful learning experiences is the goal and not the points we assign. None of us should feel like we need to perfectly recreate our course online and reinvent the wheel in the process. There are a lot of resources readily available; we just need to be confident in our skills as teachers to choose and use them as we continue to teach our students.
Couch, Brian A., Joanna K. Hubbard, and Chad E. Brassil. “Multiple–True–False Questions Reveal the Limits of the Multiple–Choice Format for Detecting Students with Incomplete Understandings.” BioScience 68, 6 (2018): 455–463. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy037.
Phil Gibson is a professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he enjoys teaching his students that learning a little botany never hurt anyone and is probably good for them in the long run. When he’s not thinking about new case studies, he enjoys walking his dog, listening to music, growing irises, and cooking outrageously large breakfasts on the weekends.
In this Educator Voices video, Alexandra Fairfield explains how she incorporated the BioInteractive Winogradsky Column resources into her courses to have her students learn about microbial life and work collaboratively.
Amy Fassler explains how she uses BioInteractive's Stopping Mosquito-Borne Disease Click & Learn to introduce the topic of emerging infectious disease in her AP® Environmental Science course.