Effective online activities are varied.
The variety required for online assessments is really two-fold. Firstly, there must be a mix of formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are frequent, low-stakes activities that allow both the instructor and students to gauge learning progress. For some examples of formative assessments that you can use in the online environment, you can check out “Seven Strategies for Using Formative Assessments in Online Learning” (3 min video). Summative assessments come at the end of lessons/units and are more formal, higher-stakes assessments that determine if a student has mastered the content. One way to understand (and remember) the roles of these two assessment types is to remember this analogy,
“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative: When the guests taste the soup, that’s summative” (Debra Dirksen, “Hitting the Reset Button: Using Formative Assessment to Guide Instruction,” 2011).
In addition to a variety of formative and summative assessments, it’s important to have a variety in the types of assessments that you use. This helps to address the diversity of your students’ needs, strengths, interests, etc. If students are only ever taking tests and quizzes, you’re not varying your assessment. Add in graded discussions, writing assignments/journaling, audio/video projects, group assessments, case studies, etc. Appeal to the strengths and interests of your students. This is in alignment with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), which you can learn more about on the Inclusion page.
Effective online activities have detailed instructions.
This seems to often surprise instructors, but students need very detailed instructions for online assessments. They often don’t have the class-time to ask questions casually or chat with their peers about parts of the instructions that they don’t understand. For example, if you are assigning an essay, be sure to specify length (or explicitly state that the length doesn’t matter), format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), filetype (.doc/.docx, .pdf, OneDrive doc), etc. If you have created an exam/quiz, be sure to specify whether there are time limits, whether it is open book, etc. These may seem like nitty-gritty details, but students need to see the expectations fully laid out online.
Effective online activities provide samples of excellent work.
In addition to detailed instructions, it’s important to provide samples, or at least partial samples. Students want to see what it is you’re looking for, and they want assurance that they aren’t completely missing the mark. This is true for students both in F2F and online learning environments. You can use past student submissions (with the student’s permission) or mock up your own samples.
Effective online activities are relevant to the “real world” outside of class.
This really is a defining principle of andragogy – the science of teaching adults. Adult learners, online or face-to-face, want to see real-world applications for what they are learning. Think about how your students might be using this knowledge in their future careers or general responsibilities as an informed citizen.
Effective online activities lead to constructive feedback.
This is really what comes after the assessment, but it’s important to consider in the design stage. All assessments must provide opportunity for you as the instructor to provide constructive feedback. This can be particularly true for online/remote students, who can often feel isolated and disconnected from their instructors. Personalized feedback takes time, but it is vital to keeping students engaged in the course. It also helps give them concrete suggestions for improving future performance.
To help you save time while providing feedback, consider using rubrics. Analytic rubrics, in particular, provide automatic comments/feedback for students on their assignments.
Effective online activities scaffold ethical digital citizenship.
Although our students may be tech savvy that doesn’t mean that they are well-versed in digital ethics. This means that you will want to provide resources for engaging with online tools in ways that respect copyright, promote accessibility and protect privacy/data security.
Having students share their work is an effective engagement strategy. Peer review is a great option for formative feedback, but be aware of the content of the assignment. If students are reflecting on personal feelings or events, they may be unwilling to share with peers. If the assignment will have a larger audience, like a blog, include information in the directions about safeguarding personal information. Students should not share too many personal details or geographical location details on the web. Saying you are in South Central PA is fine, but saying you are on 2nd Street in Mechanicsburg is too much information.