Learning Design Resources

Essential Concepts

Authentic Assessment

Many faculty ask us how they can gage a student's learning in an online course. They often wonder what could possibly replace the traditional lectures that have worked so well in a face-to-face classroom setting.

Luckily, there are myriad opportunities for alternative forms of assessment and activities in an online or hybrid course. Creating authentic assignments is a way to assess student learning that is contrasted to multiple choice standardized tests.

Read this detailed overview of authentic assessment provided by Indiana University's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.

Examples of Authentic Assessments

* NOTE: faculty development time includes designing, developing, and planning of the assessments; faculty delivery time includes moderating, communicating, grading, and providing feedback.

Type of Assessment Description and Uses Faculty Role and Time Commitment Tool(s)

Quiz

Description: Auto-graded questions including multiple choice, true/false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, formula, file upload or short essay (needs manual grading). Can be timed/untimed, randomized, one or more attempts by students


Uses: Self-knowledge check, formative assessment, reduced grading effort

Faculty role:

Create questions and/or questions banks with answers

Add automated feedback

Grade short essay questions

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:

Canvas Quizzes

Assignment

Description: Regular assignment where students submit answers/papers in Word document, PDF, or other files by uploading to the Learning Management System (e.g. Canvas) and will typically be reviewed by the faculty only.


Uses: Apply concepts, formative assessment, summative assessment

Faculty role:

Create assignment prompts

Create rubrics (if any)

Grade assignments and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:

Delivery time:
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Canvas Assignments

Discussion (Whole Class )

Description: An asynchronous class-wide discussion that begins with prompts by the faculty; student post responses to prompt and reply to one another.


Uses: For small class sizes; apply and clarify concepts, build faculty presence, build community, formative/summative assessment.

Faculty role:

Create discussion prompts

Create rubrics (if any)

Moderate and participate in discussion

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:

Delivery time:
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Canvas Discussions

Piazza

Discussion (Group)

Description: An asynchronous discussion that happens in small groups; begins with prompts by the faculty; student post responses to prompts and reply to one another in the group


Uses: For medium-large class sizes; apply and clarify concepts, build faculty presence, build community, formative/summative assessment.

Faculty role:

Create groups

Create discussion prompts

Create rubrics (if any)

Moderate and participate in discussion

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:

Delivery time:
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Canvas Group Discussions

Piazza

Peer Evaluation

Description: A written assignment or discussion that is assigned (automatically or manually) to one or more classmates to review and critique, using the same rubric as the faculty will use to grade the assignment.


Uses: Build community, formative practice, reduced grading effort for large classes

Faculty role:

Create assignment/discussion prompts

Create rubrics (if any)

Assignment peer reviews

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Discussions or Canvas Assignments

Individual Project

Description: A larger assignment where students need to apply, analyze, evaluate or create works in different stages in order to demonstrate their learning.


Uses: Summative Assessment

Faculty role:

Define project goals and milestones.

Create instructions and rubrics

Provide formative feedback on different stages

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Assignments or Discussions

Group Project

Description: A larger assignment where students work in groups to apply, analyze, evaluate or create works in different stages in order to demonstrate their learning.


Uses: Community building; summative assessment; reduced grading effort for large classes

Faculty role:

Assign groups

Define project goals and milestones.

Create instructions and rubrics

Provide formative feedback on different stages

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Groups 

Google Docs

Case Study

Description: Students are presented with realistic problems faced by professionals in the real world and are typically provided with a variety of documents outlining a specific problem or situations, and required to formulate a plan of action addressing the issue.


Uses: Real-world application; authentic assessment; formative/summative assessment

Faculty role:

Create instructions and rubrics

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Assignments or Discussions

Debate

Description: Students assigned to teams to research and analyze a controversial topic based on a stance which will lead to a series of online presentation of statements and arguments by the two opposite teams.


Uses: Real-world application; authentic assessment; community building; formative/summative assessment

Faculty role:

Select debate topics, create instructions and rubrics

Assign debate teams

Engage and moderate the debate

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Discussions

Piazza

Roleplay

Description: Students are assigned to act out an imaginary scenario that closely mirrors a situation that could occur in a real-world environment.


Uses: Real-world application; authentic assessment; community building; formative/summative assessment

Faculty role:

Create scenarios, instructions and rubrics

Engage and moderate the play

Grade and provide feedback

Update due dates over time

Development time:
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Delivery time:
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Canvas Discussions

Piazza

Ideas for Learning Activities

Type of Activity Description and Uses Faculty Role and Time Commitment Tool(s)

Video (Direct to the camera)

Description: Videos where the faculty speaks directly to the camera


Uses: Course/module overview, concept/content demonstration, promote faculty presence 

Faculty role:

Plan the videos

Work with eLearning to produce videos

Review videos

Faculty time:
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eLearning Studio

Video (Screencast)

Description: Videos where the faculty narrates while showing the screen by using a whiteboard or showing website/tools/visuals


Uses: Detailed concept demonstration

Faculty role:

Plan the videos

Work with eLearning to produce videos

Review videos

Faculty time:
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eLearning Studio, Camtasia, Kaltura, Screencast-O-Matic

Video (Interview or guest speaker)

Description: Videos in which the faculty member interviews (or invites) an expert in his or her field on topics related to the course


Uses: Build faculty presence; bring in external expertise

Faculty role:

Connect with and invite guest speakers

Plan the videos

Work with eLearning to produce videos

Review videos

Faculty time:
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eLearning Studio

Video (third-party)

Description: Videos curated from publishers or public websites, and embedded or linked in the course.


Uses: Bring in existing professional resources; reduced production effort

Faculty role:

Find and select videos

Work with eLearning to assess copyright and accessibility

Update video links over time

Faculty time:
⧫⧫

TED, YouTube, Vimeo, publisher content

Interactive Media

Description: Interactive learning objects which allows students to learn through simulations, branching, scenarios, or games.


Uses: Interactive and multi-modality learning; simulation; gamification

Faculty role:

Work with eLearning on designing the learning object as subject matter expert

Review and provide feedback

Faculty time:
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Articulate, Adobe Captivate

Infographic

Description: A custom graphic that is created specifically to illustrate a course topic or clarify a course concept


Uses: Visualized concept demonstration

Faculty role:

Work with eLearning on designing the learning object as subject matter expert

Review and provide feedback

Faculty time:
⧫⧫

Adobe Creative Suite, Canva

Group Synchronous Session

Description: A real-time learning session where student groups and faculty collaborate in a live online learning space.

Uses: Build community and faculty presence; moderate group work; clarify concepts/assignments

Faculty role:

Create groups

Schedule and attend synchronous sessions

Faculty time:
⧫⧫

Webex, Google Meet

Individual Synchronous Session

Description: A real-time learning session where an individual student and faculty collaborate in a live online learning space.

Uses: Build faculty presence; clarify concepts/assignments; office hours

Faculty role:

Schedule and attend synchronous sessions

Faculty time:
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Webex, Google Meet

Backward Design

In their book Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe offer a course design framework called backward design. In contrast to what you could call "forward design", this framework starts by focusing on course goals or objectives, which is what students are expected to have learned by the end of the course. Once the goals are defined, the means of assessing student learning can be identified, and thus learning activities and resources can be selected.

The three stages of backward design include:

  1. Identifying desired results: What should students be able to do, and what skills should they master after completing the course? This is the stage where your course learning outcomes will be defined.
  2. Determining acceptable evidence: How will you know if your students have achieved the desired results? This is the stage where you choose the methods of assessment used to determine if students have achieved the course goals. This includes any and all forms of assessment, such as projects, papers, exams, group activities, case studies, and so on.
  3. Planning learning experiences and instruction: With learning objectives and assessment methods established, you can begin designing your instructional strategies and activities while selecting the appropriate resources.

For additional information on backward design, try the following YouTube videos:

If you are interested in discussing this design approach – or any others – for your own course, get in touch to partner with us in enhancing the Miami experience.

Writing Measurable Outcomes

Learning outcomes (also known as learning objectives) are statements that describe what students should learn, phrased as measurable goals. Miami's Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) introduces the basics on their Writing Student Learning Outcomes page.

Learn more about the levels of cognitive skills from Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives from the University of North Carolina's Center for Teaching and Learning. Apply Bloom's Taxonomy to write effective learning objectives with this University of Arkansas resource.

Use action verbs to reflect different cognitive skill at different levels. CTE has a sample listing of Bloom's Taxonomy Action Verbs that will help you write measurable learning outcomes and ensure rigor in your course.

Community of Inquiry

Student engagement may be harder to support in an online portion of a course because the chemistry of the classroom doesn't exist; information is largely verbal. With text, students can't see you smile or hear the passion in your voice. But even with video, the most brilliant lecture is flattened when it’s watched on a screen. Research shows that the longer an online video lasts, the more likely students are to stop watching. This is true even for professionally produced video segments. In addition, there is a delay between every communicative element, which can reduce the sense of immediacy and connection.

Research has supported a model of three key elements that create an engaged, powerful online or technology-enhanced course where deep learning and critical thinking are supported. This model is called the Community of Inquiry, and it consists of three elements:

  • Teaching presence, which refers to the development of a well-structured set of learning experiences, the active facilitation of the course through guiding discussion and providing formative feedback, and administering the class effectively.
  • Social presence, which involves the development of trust and connection with other people in a course; and
  • Cognitive presence, which refers to students' making meaning out of information, through interaction and reflection; it reflects higher order thinking and critical analysis.

To create a community of inquiry, courses must be designed around student activities. That is, students must be taking actions and getting feedback, sharing ideas, applying concepts and thinking deeply. Meaningful and collaborative learning activities are keys to engaging students, especially in online courses.

Create a Teaching Presence

The first step in creating teaching presence begins long before the term starts. The instructor must develop the course, which should be completed beforehand and should be available to students a week before the term starts. This involves much more than the syllabus. It includes:

  • Providing orientations to online learning, and the course;
  • Developing the syllabus, with interesting and applied learning activities throughout the course;
  • Developing detailed descriptions of all class activities and assessments, and rubrics used to evaluate students’ work; and
  • Curating and/or developing learning resources, such as text descriptions, articles, textbooks, websites, videos, and other materials.

One key difference between a correspondence course and an online course is the role of the instructor; she or he should be a constant presence, guiding learning, solving problems, answering questions, inviting deeper understanding, giving useful feedback -- in a word, teaching. This role is critical in online and hybrid courses. Although effective instruction involves faculty guiding students' exploration and learning, rather than being the "sage on the stage" who personally presents all information, the role of the teacher is critical to student success. 

To create teaching presence, the instructor must be engaged and actively guiding the class experience. Maintain your presence by:

  • giving timely formative feedback on work,
  • posting announcements,
  • guiding students from one section of the course to the next,
  • actively guiding asynchronous discussions,
  • setting up text chat or webinar sessions,
  • answering questions,
  • summarizing learning,
  • handling administrative problems, etc.

Instructor presence is one of the main factors that makes learning successful, and increases student satisfaction, engagement and learning. When students perceive that their instructor isn’t active or doesn’t care about what they do, they are likely to reduce their motivation in an online course. Unlike the face-to-face classroom, students cannot see you reading their work; unless you actively write or say something, they believe you are not present. You must regularly participate to create a sense of instructor presence.

Another tip to provide strong teaching presence is to avoid extensive communication by email. When you engage in email exchanges, you are very "present" to one student, but invisible to the rest of the class. Any issues that are relevant to more than one student should be shared in the class itself, rather than in email. While students may ignore a request to post questions in a "Course Q & A" discussion topic, you can encourage it by moving questions that are emailed to the discussion. Respond by email only to let the student know that you received the email and inform them where to look for the answer. Copy-paste the question anonymously into the course discussion. Respond by thanking or complimenting them for asking the question (e.g., "One of you asked an excellent question…"), and answer it. This will encourage students to use the course discussion areas, and reduce the time you spend repeating the same information.

Create a Social Presence

A strong sense of community is important to student satisfaction, participation, learning and even retention, regardless of the delivery method of the course. Although many believe that online learning results in a sense of isolation, it is not necessarily the case; there are many ways to create a strong sense of community among learners when face-to-face time is limited or eliminated. It can be created in many ways, the most common of which are discussions, group work, and other interactive learning activities.

Many online, hybrid or technology enhanced classes involve asynchronous discussion, or discussion boards, in which students post comments and respond to one another at different times. Many also involve synchronous interactions through chat tools (for simultaneous written communication) or webinars (for simultaneous verbal communication). Synchronous discussions create a strong sense of social presence, but are not ideal for all tasks. For example, in an online course, many students expect to work on the class at different times, and it may be difficult to find a time all can attend. Having a coherent discussion is difficult because taking turns is difficult to negotiate, which can result in chaotic and confusing discussions, particularly with larger classes. Technology problems may impede some students from participating.

On the other hand, asynchronous threaded discussion facilitates focusing on course topics. It allows shy or introverted students to participate fully, as well as ESL students and others who are less likely to volunteer in face-to-face settings. It allows discussion to continue for an extended period, enabling deep analysis that applies a wide range of ideas and resources to problems. However, it lacks the immediacy of synchronous communication, and generally does not have the richness of non-verbal information that webinars do.

There are many ways to increase the sense of community through effective guidance of asynchronous discussion. Some major approaches, as described by Swan and Shih (2005), are:

  • To model and support affective expressions, through direct expression of feelings, punctuation, using symbols and emoticons, as well as humor and self-disclosure
  • To support cohesiveness through references to the group as a whole, using student names and inviting social sharing;
  • To support interaction and personal connections through acknowledgements of contributions, expressions of agreement or disagreement, invitations to discuss, and encouragement.

Create a Cognitive Presence

It is challenging to support social connections through asynchronous discussion and simultaneously support higher-order thinking and critical discourse, because many students hesitate to directly criticize one another and instead make general comments about their personal beliefs and experiences. Thus one finds ubiquitous comments in online discussions: "Great point!" and "I agree!"

However, both higher order thinking and a strong learning community can be created by explicitly requiring students to critically examine ideas and support opinions with evidence. Research has found more critical inquiry occurs when students engage in debates and case analyses than in general open discussion of ideas. In face-to-face settings, "what do you think is going on here?" can produce an effective discussion; in an online setting, this would likely lead to frustration and limited learning.

Assign students complex real-world or realistic problems to resolve, typically ones that have no single correct answer. Such problems tend to be very challenging, so students should build up to them by learning concepts and terms, then applying them in mini-cases and then larger-scale cases, and/or by analyzing situations of failure. Complex problems can be broken down into stages that students complete, revise, and integrate over time.

Furthermore, analytical, application and discussion tasks should be defined precisely. This includes specific guidelines for the amount and frequency of interaction, and rubrics that include evaluative criteria such depth of analysis, critical inquiry, and application of concepts. If you let students know what your expectations are, they are much more likely to achieve them. You can provide clear roles and responsibilities for students, formally assigning the roles such as "respectful challenger" and "integrator."