Assessing Online Collaboration: What You Need To Know

Assessing Online Collaboration: What You Need To Know
Summary: In this article I will share some key information about assessments and their characteristics, as well some easy ways to assess online collaboration in collaborative learning activities.

What You Need To Know About Assessing Online Collaboration   

The goal of collaborative learning activities is to provide students with learning opportunities where learners are able to interact while sharing and processing new information. Assessing individual learning and achieving full online participation can be difficult without the appropriate assessment tool. Assessing online collaboration can be challenging and require the instructor to create assessment tools that evaluate individual student learning and group participation. Additionally, communicating evaluation results with online learners can be just as challenging as creating the assessment tool.

Formative And Summative Assessments

Assessing is the process of identifying specific and measurable goals, collecting evidence of student learning, and implementing changes to future instruction for the purposes of improving student achievement. Assessing student learning in the online environment can be in the form of formative or summative assessments. Formative assessments are ongoing and can occur at several points throughout a course. The objective of formative assessments is to monitor student learning, which will provide the instructor ongoing feedback that can be used to improve teaching and instruction. More specifically, formative assessments help learners identify personal strengths and weaknesses and help to create future learning goals. Additionally, formative assessments are generally low stakes assessments, having low or no point values. Some formative examples include: Student self-reflections, self-assessments, discussion rubrics, collaborative assessments, peer-to-peer feedback, and student working portfolios.

The objective of summative assessments is to assess student learning at the end of a course by comparing it against a previously set standard or benchmark. Information from summative assessments can be used to focus and realign overall course objectives and assignments for future course offerings. Summative assessments are often high stakes, having a high point value. Examples of summative assessments might include: Midterm exams, final projects, extended writings, or a final portfolio. However, using only summative assessment types ignores many of the basic guiding principles of collaborative online student assessments.

6 Key Assessment Characteristics

Assessing collaborative group activities require the instructor to understand basic principles of online student assessment. Morgan and O’Reilly discuss six key qualities of collaborative assessments, which include: Explicitly stated performance expectations, authentic tasks, a facilitative structured assessment, timely assessments, and an awareness of the learning context. The multitude of variables linked with assessing collaborative activities is a challenge for online instructors as they develop collaborative activities. The first step in determining the assessment tool is to identify the goals and objectives of the collaborative activity. The difficulty is found in matching the activity to the appropriate assessment tool. The following assessment tips provide a guide for online instructors as they develop collaborative group activities and assessments:

  1. Identify the learning outcomes.
    Assessments should be products of the activity and student learning.
  2. State explicitly the activity expectations.
    Learners must know the activity objectives and performance expectations before beginning.
  3. Use rubrics.
    Explicit evaluation criteria with assigned values based on levels of participation and content should always accompany an online collaborative activity.
  4. Provide timely assessment feedback.
    Value learner work and effort from the very beginning.
  5. Use a reflective process.
    Learning occurs at a deeper level when students are able to reflect on their own learning knowledge and experiences.
  6. Allow learners to develop portfolios.
    Serves as evidence of individual and group work.

Ways To Assess Online Collaboration 

  • Self-Assessments. 
    Assessing student learning can happen in a number of ways to include learner self-assessments. Self-assessments can be considered formative or summative depending on how learner results are used to guide future instruction and learning. Collaborative activities are best assessed collaboratively  and with the appropriate rubrics learners can assess their own learning and the learning of others easily. According to Palloff and Pratt learners often know more about the level of participation each group member contributed than the instructor. Learners who actively engage in collaborative activities retain new information and increase their ability to self-reflect. Finally, instructors can quickly assess student learning by asking questions such as:

    • How well do you feel you met the learning objectives?
    • What grade do you feel you deserve and why?
    • Based on the collaborative assignment expectations what grade do you feel each participant should receive and why? 
  • Reflective Assessments.
    Meaningful self-reflections are important assessment tools for determining the level of online learning interactions, community building, and overall understanding of learning objectives. Critical self-reflection is a significant part of transformative learning. Self-reflective assessments allow learners to connect with content at a much deeper level and provide the instructor with evidence of individual learning. Learner self-reflections can be completed via instructor made surveys or through journal writing. Requiring learners to provide significantly relevant peer-to-peer feedback increases their own self-reflective skills. Furthermore, the process of self-reflection forces learners to compare their standard for learning to the learning standards of other group members. It is recommended instructors provide learners with clear peer-to-peer feedback expectations, which include providing others with quality, timely, and professional feedback.
  • Collaborative Projects.
    Collaborative projects, or performance-based activities, are essential to the learning process of online class environments. This is especially important in a constructivist account of learning, where the instructor is replaced by knowledge and experiences of other learners. Collaborative projects, such as group –portfolios, are designed to exploit the benefits of collaborative peer learning through the use of technology. Peer interactions provide opportunities for learners to develop critical thinking skills and allow the instructor to assess mastery of overall course goals and objectives. However, participants of collaborative group projects can best assess collaborative projects. Additionally, instructors may ask learners to assess and justify their view, compare it with that of other collaborative group members, or revise existing beliefs. The use of rubrics, with appropriate examples and project expectations, be provided to learners to help guide them in the project completion.
  • Rubrics. 
    Ultimately every assessment practice results in the use of a rubric, regardless of the learning environment or learning activity. Rubrics are tools that help define the performance expectations of a given task or assignment. Rubrics provide learners with assignment expectations and provide learners with a way to evaluate their own learning, as well as the learning of other participants within collaborative activities.  Rubrics can be used to evaluate individual student learning, participation, or overall group performance. Collaborative activities should be assessed for the product and process. Additionally, the use of rubrics to assess learner discussions is also especially useful when evaluating a learner’s ability to synthesis, analyze, and justify important and complex information. Online asynchronous discussion also allows learners the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of other collaborative group members. Furthermore, rubrics create self-awareness and provide learners the opportunity to compare their own performance against that of other participants and the instructor’s performance standards.


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