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What Are the Challenges & Opportunities of Online Assessment in a Virtual Classroom?

    The Bell Curve

    • Perhaps the biggest mistake made by educators using virtual classrooms is expecting students to perform according to Benjamin Bloom's bell curve model. Bloom maintained that the vast majority of students would perform somewhere between the low and high end of a grading scale on any given assessment. Because material is rarely covered in a virtual classroom in the linear fashion in which it is often presented in a physical classroom, students tend to perform across a wider spectrum of scores. Consequently, one of the greatest challenges to online assessment is attempting to interpret test results and reapply that interpretation to the construction and implementation of future assessments. This range of scores also opens up greater possibilities for teachers to move individual student achievement with specified instruction via email or online tutoring, as opposed to attempting to move a majority of students with general remediation lessons.

    Assessment Appropriateness

    • Appropriate assessments evaluate only the skills and material presented during the lesson in an authentic way. For example, if the lesson's goal was to instruct students on the proper way to write a formal letter to a business or organization, an appropriate assessment would be to have students write an actual formal letter. In this way, the skills imparted in the lesson relate to the structuring and composition of the letter. For virtual classrooms, making appropriate assessments is difficult. For example, activities that require teacher and student interaction (speaking or presentation activities) are nearly impossible to assess in a virtual classroom. On the other hand, activity types that utilize online communication and navigation skills (effective emailing skills and Web research) can occur in a more realistic and genuine setting.

    Assessment Validity

    • Valid assessments evaluate only the material covered over the course of a lesson or unit. Generating valid assessments challenges teachers in both physical and virtual classrooms. Virtual classrooms, however, disconnect students from teachers--and therefore produce additional challenges. In a physical classroom, students confused about an assessment's invalidity can seek guidance from the teacher. On the other hand, certain types of assessment strategies that only exist in virtual classrooms, such as survey-results generators and online grading tools, provide teachers with an opportunity to instantaneously gather and interpret students' assessment results. This helps teachers modify the assessment so that it validly reflects the material covered during class.

    Assessment Materiality and Application

    • Assessments administered in physical classrooms require teachers to deliver, collect and individually evaluate all students. Likewise with assessments in virtual classrooms, although the evaluation is nearly instantaneous with messaging tools like email, Websites or content management systems. This cuts down significantly on the materials required for assessments, as well as evaluation time needed. Consequently, assessments in virtual classrooms can significantly cut time and energy needed to do an assessment. On the other hand, assessments virtual classrooms depend on various technologies functioning properly together. If just one of these systems fails, the assessment may not be delivered, taken or returned.

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