Understanding "How's it going?"

Given the unique nature of the upcoming semester, it is even more important to consider ways to check-in with your students to understand how your course is going. Traditional methods of formative assessment of learning are key in the SMUFlex environment and can be adapted from traditional methods with a few tweaks. Additionally, the utilization of a mid-term course evaluation can help reveal some of the less obvious opportunities for adjustment in your course prior to the end of the semester.

Formative Assessment in SMUFlex (adapted from Teaching a Hybrid-Flexible Course)

Assessing student learning, in general, can be very much the same in all modes of HyFlex (or SMUFlex) instruction. Faculty with experience teaching in the classroom will likely evaluate learning, and the progress of learning, much the same as they have in the past. 

Learning progression is also referred to as “formative assessment” or “formative evaluation” in the education literature. “The goal of formative evaluation is the improvement of student motivation and learning.” (McMillan, 2007, pg. 3) In the classroom, learning progression is often assessed informally, 

with physical and social cues being sent and read by both students and the instructor as content is presented and class activities are in progress. Instructors may interrupt a presentation for a quick quiz (or a “show of hands”), or to ask questions of selected students. (A very many effective practices exist; you have probably experienced dozens of them over the course of your education.) For a thorough description and discussion of various formative evaluation techniques used in the classroom, see Formative Classroom Assessment: Theory into Practice. (McMillan, 2007) 

When working with online students, the challenge to instructors is translating the techniques of formative evaluation effective in the classroom into the online instructional environment – in many cases both synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous online instructional formats often afford many of the same evaluation techniques as those used in the classroom. Spontaneous quizzing, reading facial cues, conducting quick polls, encouraging question and answer sessions, completing “one minute essays” are some of the practices used in the classroom that can work well with online synchronous students. Clearly, there may be additional challenges to the instructor since all of these interactions will now be mediated by technology, and that technology may be limited in its ability to convey meaning through small video windows, imperfect audio, or other challenges. But overall, many instructors find reasonable approaches supporting their assessment of learning progression with online synchronous students. (Coordinating instructor efforts for both in-class and synchronous students presents the same challenges as those mentioned above.) 

It becomes much more difficult for instructors to conduct formative evaluation for asynchronous online learning, though it is far from impossible to do so effectively. For a thorough summary o some of the most common and effective online formative assessment practices, see Gikandi, Morrow, and Davis (2011). In their review of the literature available at the time, they found that “effective online formative assessment can foster a learner and assessment centered focus through formative feedback and enhanced learner engagement with valuable learning experiences.” (2011, pg 2333) Practices such as the use of discussion forums, frequent quizzes, and requiring multiple performances of understanding represented in an e-portfolio system are noted as being particularly useful. One meta- practice that many HyFlex instructors use is to design activities supporting formative assessment for all students that meet the specific needs of online asynchronous students. Essentially this creates an online formative assessment approach applied to all students, no matter how they participate in class sessions. 

Mid-Term Course Evaluation

Additionally, we recommend creating a mid-term and/or early term course evaluation form to directly request anonymous feedback from your students. This survey style of gathering feedback focuses less on gaining insight into student learning (like with formative assessment above) and more on a student's overall experience in a course. Mid-term course evaluation might allow you to to understand more of the following among other things:

  • Student experience or challenges with technology
  • Attitudes towards the course cadence and flow
  • Comfort with course culture and norms
  • Minor adjustments to improve student experience and learning

Using a mid-term or early term course evaluation to receive feedback allows an instructor to identify and make adjustments to a course prior to the end of the course. You can create an evaluation like this using Qualtrics, Google Forms, SurveyMonkey or any other survey tool with which you have experience. Below are additional resources for creating a mid-term course evaluations, including a list of sample questions to consider. 

Additional resources for mid-term evaluation forthcoming.