Over-Assessment Is Unnecessary Online Courses
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Less Is More

When designing a course, we need to reiterate the basic premise of andragogy, the motivation to learn. When I taught Mass Media & Society, there was a discussion board post, journal entry, and essay due every week. On top of this, resources that included multiple articles, videos, and more than twenty pages of reading from the course textbook. A full-time college student could handle this, but an adult student with a full-time job and family would need to sacrifice sleep in order to just pass the course. I have only taught online at one university, but I know that a course does not have to test the physical limits of a student. It should inspire the student to want to learn and continue with the course. This over frequency of student assessment leads to knowledge diminishment and lack of skill-building. We can design a course that keeps three important factors in mind: creative assignments, frequency of assignments, and student’s time.

Student Time

Time is a crucial factor in building and designing a course. One must consider the socio-economic background of students. Most online students work full time and have families, which is why they are acquiring a degree remotely in order to advance in their respective fields. Not every student has a manageable time load, and a course designer should measure what a reasonable amount of coursework time is for a working, family-supporting student. Many students have shared with me that they have full-time jobs, children, and spouses to take care of. Even some students are college-aged and have jobs and other responsibilities. This does not mean fewer assessments and less reading, but a feasible amount of work that can be time managed. In addition, course designers should assume that most online students are enrolled in additional courses.

When I was teaching in-person and had control over my courses, I kept in mind that the world does not revolve around my course. Full-time jobs, families, and personal circumstances make time a crucial factor in course design. Yes, time management is the responsibility of the student, but if a student already has a minimal amount of time to put aside for school work this makes time management an even more narrow endeavor. Students should not read course unit resources and immediately feel the course is insurmountable. We want them to feel as though they can handle the reading, look forward to it, and understand how to break it down into manageable time lengths.

Measuring Time

One can measure the time put into the course through a summation of the material in the resources section. The course designer needs to count the selected videos time length, each article and book chapter page length. This total amount then needs to be calculated and compared to an average amount of time a working student sets aside. An in-person course meets for an average of 150 minutes a week. This should be approximate to the amount of reading required because asynchronous courses are self-paced. Seventy-five minutes set aside for reading the required resources, and seventy-five minutes for completing the course work. A full-time job demands forty hours a week, plus the amount of time for family care, and then we are left with the amount of time for completing school work. If we want a more sound measurement of how much time online students spend on course work, higher ed journalists Jordan Friedman and Josh Moody, argue that “many online learners say they spend 15 to 20 hours a week on coursework” (U.S. News, 2020). Given this standard, students should set aside two hours a day throughout a seven-day week schedule. This standard of time seems the most feasible, which can be calculated through the course resources.

We have to look at the resources selected and how their length complements each other. There needs to be a balance between the number of videos and video time length. If a video is twenty minutes long, then there should only be one video in the resource section. You could have a couple of short five-minute videos, an article, and twenty pages of textbook reading. There can be many ways to divide up the resources of a unit in order to keep in mind how much time a student can spend, we just do not want it to exceed twenty hours a week.

Frequency Of Assessment

Once we understand how time is regulated in the course, we need to figure out the flow of assessments. On the surface, a discussion board post, journal entry, and essay every week appear as an effective structure to assess whether or not students are reading the literature, watching videos, and retaining each learning objective; however, this perceives students as a machine. Students can feel burned out from a consistent need to perform to the same repetitive standard, which is reflected in the quality of work submitted overtime. Rather than a continuous replicative structure of assessment, we need to implement breaks in between units.

Breaks do not need to be a physical departure from work, but varied ways of doing work. Rather than an assessment every week, there can be creative assignments that encourage the student to seek out an activity that is relative to the lesson but does not require them to submit a written assignment. For example, students could participate in group projects. In Mass Media & Society, rather than a four-page essay on cultural icons and the music industry. Students can be given a list of musicians, sign up for a group that will meet together virtually, and then discuss the selected musician. Students will be given articles that correlate to a set of questions, which will be asked by a student moderator. This gives students the opportunity to lead and collaborate. The video discussion will be recorded and the instructor can watch and assess how effectively the students worked as a group and discussed the material. A group discussion allows students to meet each other and discuss the topic in an alternative format, which creates a break from continuous written work.

Alternative Assignments

This is not the only alternative because there are multiple ways to break up the structure of weekly assessments. A course needs to facilitate a flow that allows students to stretch their creative capacity in order to retain enthusiasm for the course. This was one of the many comments shared in course reflections that students want the opportunity where they can express themselves.

In my Mass Media & Society course, one unit covers the film and studio television industry. For this unit, students could be required to record a video where they present a project centered on the 1930s studio era. Students will be given a list of films they can focus on, select one and discuss the narrative structure of the film, how it represents the culture of the time period, and the production behind it. These questions tap into the unit’s learning objective on film as a mass medium. Students will record themselves presenting the project, upload it to YouTube, and share the link on a discussion board post, which they can then have time to watch and discuss each other’s videos. Students are eager to express themselves while simultaneously applying the course material. We need to keep in mind a student’s motivation to learn because their educational experience impacts their mental health.

Student Well-Being

In a recent Inside Highered article, campuses are facing a mental health crisis and students do not know how to seek out campus resources. Students are under the impression that universities do not “care about them as a person” (2020, Anderson). This may be true for online students who are faced with multiple obstacles at home and feel that their needs are not met. Course designers should keep in mind the well-being of students by assessing the feasibility of the course. This is important because we want to design accessible and achievable courses that lead to student retention.

Student absence is a key issue facing online courses, but we can keep students by designing courses that tap into their creativity. Students face many obstacles today that lead them to doubt the value and purpose of education. Online courses should encourage students to return and keep learning. We do not want to create anxiety for them. I hope that we can focus on the importance of time, assessment structure, and creative assignments in order to encourage student enthusiasm for learning.

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