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Instructional Support

Evaluate Learning and Instruction

Evaluation should be present throughout the course development and implementation process: from needs assessment to planning, creating and implementing the assessment of student learning and course effectiveness. We will focus on three evaluation tasks: 1) assessment of student learning in the online environment, 2) assessment of course effectiveness, and 3) development of assessment instruments, specifically, rubrics.

Evaluate Student Learning

Your Course Plan helps you align assignments and assessments with the desired student objectives and create an overall picture of your course that is focused on the student learning, rather than on topics.

This section will help you identify assessment methods and techniques that are appropriate for the online environment. In an online course, where successful learning happens in the context of student interaction, collaboration, and self-discipline, the instructor needs to develop and implement assessments that go beyond traditional research papers, multiple-choice tests, and written exams.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is non-graded or low-stake, regular, and ongoing. The purpose is to ensure the continuous progress of student learning.

Assignment/Assessment Tools
  • The clearest/muddiest point
  • Reflections
  • Lecture notes, outline, and summary
  • Pre-tests, diagnostic tests
  • Short quizzes
  • Self-assessment interactive exercises
  • Class polls

Visit the TLI website to learn more about assessment.

  • Online@UT (Canvas) blog, journal, and discussion tools
  • Online@UT (Canvas) assessment tools (assignments, quizzes, surveys)
  • LiveOnline@UT (Zoom) chat and live online classroom
Feedback Tools
  • Instructor feedback on an individual student assignment
  • Rubric with performance criteria provided by the instructor, together with the assignment instructions
  • Peer evaluation of individual contribution to a group project
  • Peer review of a written assignment
  • Automatic feedback in an online quiz
  • Online@UT (Canvas) assignments, including peer-review assignment and rubrics
  • Online@UT (Canvas) assessment tools (assignments, quizzes, surveys)

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is graded and formal. Its purpose is to evaluate student performance against the set student learning objectives.

Assignment/Assessment Tools
Examples of assessments for lower-level cognitive skills (knowledge and comprehension)

  • Quizzes and tests w/questions on facts, definitions, and understanding concepts
  • Definitions
  • Topic summaries, article reviews

Examples of assessments for higher-level cognitive skills (application, analysis, synthesis/creation)

  • Authentic work products for professional use, such as white papers, briefs, op-eds, memos, project reports, presentations, interview questions, scripts, and grant proposals.
  • Team project documentation, course resources, glossary definitions.
  • Reflection papers, reading summaries, observation reports.
  • Group discussions and debates.
  • Annotated set of resources for a solution to a specific challenge.
  • Interview with an innovative thinker or a subject matter expert.
  • Multimedia products, such as an audio podcast, video demonstration, video documentary, or narrated slide presentation.
  • Online@UT (Canvas) Item Banks for quizzes and tests.
  • Online@UT (Canvas) interactive rubrics.
  • Online@UT (Canvas) assignment tool for submitting documents only to the instructors.
  • Online@UT (Canvas) discussion forum/blog for sharing submitted documents and other files to the class or a group.
  • Online@UT (Canvas) wiki for creating a collection of documents, writing definitions, web pages, and links.
  • LiveOnline@UT (Zoom) for live and recorded web-based audio and video sessions.
  • Content-building tools for presentations and multimedia.

Tips for implementing online assessments

There are several things to consider when implementing online assessments (Kim, Smith, & Maeng, 2008; Palloff & Pratt, 2009):

  • Rely less on traditional assessments (individual paper/essay and exam/quiz/problem set).
  • Rely more on performance-based, authentic and collaborative assessments (collaborative projects/team assessments, project/simulation/case study, discussion/chat, reflection, portfolio, and peer evaluation).
  • Include a reflective component in the assessments.
  • Assessments that involve interactions – such as group projects – should include an easy and regular communication component.
  • Provide detailed instructions and tips for completing assignments.
  • Set clear performance criteria for the graded assignments. Ask the Online@UT (Canvas) support group about interactive rubrics within Canvas.
  • Give individual or group feedback on the assignments. Let students know when to expect feedback from you.
  • Give students opportunities and guidelines for providing peer feedback.
  • Create grading rubrics for performance-based assessments.
  • When possible, provide options for assignments to address different interests and learning styles.

Time for Action

  • Develop a formative assessment using an Online@UT (Canvas) tool of your choice.
  • In your online course site, create a graded performance-based assignment with the detailed instructions, performance criteria, and additional materials if necessary.
  • Request OIT Assistance – ask for feedback on your developed assessments.


Assess the Online Instruction

UTK’s Student Assessment of Instruction System provides a standardized way to assess course and instructor effectiveness at the end of each semester. The unique features of online instruction require additional assessment of the course.

Summative Assessment of the Online Instruction

A summative assessment of an online course may take a form of an online survey or a focus group (live online or face-to-face) that assesses (Palloff and Pratt (2009):

  • Overall online course experience
  • Course orientation
  • Online content
  • Activities and assignments with online interaction and collaboration component such as group discussions, collaborative assignments
  • Self-assessment of student participation and performance
  • Course management system and other technology tools used in the course
  • Student support including instructor support and feedback, technical support, and access to resources.

Formative Assessment of the Online Instruction

Teaching and Learning Innovation (TLI) emphasizes the importance of ongoing, formative assessment of the instruction aimed at iterative improvement of the course. Suggested methods are:

  • Student feedback in response to instructor-initiated questions about specific aspects of the course – through Online@UT (Canvas) discussion forum or blog
  • A 3-points online survey about instruction (What did you understand best? What do you have questions about? What suggestions do you have about class?)
  • Student reflections in a private journal
  • Student comments in the class online forum.

Time for Action

  • Create a summative assessment for your course.
  • Create a formative assessment for your course.
  • Request OIT Assistance – ask for feedback on your developed assessments.


  • Paloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2009). Assessing the online learner: Resources and strategies for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • The Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center. (2011). Summer Teaching Institute assessment

Create Rubrics

A rubric is a useful scoring tool for collaborative and performance-based assignments such as student presentations, group projects, and discussions. A rubric describes the criteria for student performance and also indicates acceptable levels of mastery.

Sample rubrics for online discussion:

Tips for Creating Rubrics:

  • Identify the criteria (characteristics/behaviors) of the performance. For example, criteria for an online discussion can be “understanding and integration of the course material, engagement, and expression” (Myers and Wyatt).
  • Decide on the scoring scale for the rubric.
  • Define indicators of performance for each level on the selected scale from exemplary to unsatisfactory.
  • Test the rubric with students in a sample activity.
  • Share the rubric with students before they begin the assignment.

Time for Action