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How to Facilitate Assessment in Your Online Course | Elizabeth Mays, Illinois Central College

We interviewed Biology Professor, Elizabeth Mays of Illinois Central College about bringing assessment into your online course.

How would you recommend a new faculty member get started?

"I think you first need to establish what goals you have for McGraw Hill Connect® assessments. Is it student preparation, comprehension, engagement, testing, etc.? Once you have established goals, then you can design the proper assessment for those goals, with the purposeful intent of aligning assessments closely with your learning outcomes.

I suggest low-stakes formative assessments at the beginning of a chapter or module to assess baseline knowledge of your students and adjusting other content as necessary. I would follow-up with summative assessments at the conclusion of the chapter or module to measure improvement from those baseline measures, and again adjust content and presentation as necessary."

What are some of the standards you need to keep in mind?

"In the students' minds, they would tell you they want to know "how to get points,” but what they're really asking for is clear instructions and expectations for any assigned assessment. Clarity and transparency are essential.

Whatever assessments you design, they must be meaningful and correlate directly with the course learning outcomes. From the student standpoint, each assessment needs to be purposeful. The why of an assessment needs to be shared with students. This generates student "buy-in" to your process and greater motivation to engage with the materials you are presenting.

Additionally, instructors need to provide timely and encouraging feedback. It is helpful for students to know the timeframe in which they can expect to receive feedback at the outset of an assessment–it reduces confusion and anxiety. Encouragement is important as well. Our goal should be to teach our students to learn from errors they've made, but not be afraid of making errors. This gives them the foundation to become life-long learners."

What specific Connect tools would you recommend using?

"For low-stakes, formative assessments, I use SmartBook® assignments at the outset of a chapter or module. I recommend choosing introductory material that you would like the students to have for a foundation before engaging with other content you present to them. This will allow you greater flexibility to 1) address primary misconceptions and trouble spots and 2) customize and spend more time on content that is relevant to non-majors–the material that is often a side-note in texts or skimmed over in lecture, but which is key to student engagement and success.

These formative assessments are also useful in garnering unsure students more confidence in science before they get overwhelmed by detailed content that can be intimidating. They embrace the feeling of knowing *something* as opposed to not being "good in science.” Because SmartBook content is truly adaptive, I can be confident that my students are getting the support they need to be successful.

For summative assessments, I use the Question Banks within Connect. I find the variety of questions types, filters (especially Bloom's level, learning objectives), and controls are incredibly useful to allow me to customize the assessments based on learning outcomes and student needs. I often do a quiz or understanding check at the end of each chapter and a larger, more interactive type of assessment over an entire unit that is due near the end of that unit."

About the Author

Elizabeth Mays has been a biology professor at Illinois Central College for the past 17 years. She is the lead instructor of a non-majors biology course and has also filled that role in several anatomy and physiology courses. While historically teaching in-person courses, she has gained significant experience in online teaching and hybrid education over the past few years, including certification through the Online Learning Consortium™. She strives to incorporate simple activities and practices into her teaching that encourage student ownership of learning, mindfulness, and content relevancy to promote student success. Her passion is building student confidence in biology content that often seems too difficult or unattainable. Elizabeth has also authored and edited Connect® and SmartBook® projects for McGraw Hill has served on an Advisory Board for substantial MGH product improvements, and actively functions as a Digital Faculty Consultant. She has also served on a National Science Foundation Panel as a reviewer. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, fitness, spending time with her husband, and watching her two boys play baseball.

Profile Photo of Elizabeth Mays