Instructors are encouraged to consider assessment as a desireable and constant part of the learning cycle rather than a summary evaluation of learning that occurs all at once, or at the end of the course. Both non-graded (formative) and graded (summative) assessments should occur regularly and be designed to be tightly integrated into the curriculum, and indeed be considered a non-separate component of student learning. Our website on assessment practices includes other principles and examples of assessment that can be integrated into your online experience.

Types of Online Assessments

Though the most common association with assessments may be "tests," don't forget about quizzes, surveys, and self tests. Each may have a role in meeting the needs of your students' varied learning styles.

Another common use of the assessments tool is for practice exams, both those that prepare students for tests and exams that do count, and those that exist primarily for the faculty member's knowledge about student progress, such as the use of pre-tests and post-tests for the entire semester.

To the extent it is possible and scalable, given your class size, consider making your assessments as "authentic" as possible. This would mean avoiding self-grading types of questions in favor of open-ended assessments which more realistically capture what problems in this industry might look like. Some variations of "fill in the blank" assessments might meet the authentic assessment criteria but still be self-grading.

Alignment with Objectives

Your course design should, by its very nature, consider objectives and assessments together, as they are concepts intimately bound up with each other. When designing, you will want to know that course objectives will be met by the end of the class, so you need to choose assessments which provide an accurate and complete picture of student learning (often, the answer involves more than just chapter tests). You will want to verify that you've provided enough assessments to adequately decide that course objectives are met, and alternately, you'll want to be sure that each assessment is offered in the service of at least one course objective (if it's not related to the course objectives, you may not need that assessment).


How often should you give assessments to students? The answer should be informed by your objectives and course design decisions. It's important to think beyond the coverage of material and consider also the learning patterns of the students. If you plan to cover six chapters in a textbook during the semester, it might seem simple to just assign six chapter texts.

A final exam might look unnecessary at first blush, but learning theories suggest that there should be some manner of summary or synthesis activity in a course - otherwise students may never make needed connections in the material to truly cement the learning.

Quizzes serve an important function in informing students of their ongoing progress. They also provide necessary waypoints to the learning for the student, and serve as extrinsic motivators for students to address the material in a timely fashion, rather than all at once just before the larger chapter tests.

Exam/Quiz Length and Open/Closed Book Tests

How many questions should you ask on an assessment is related to how long you want the assessment to last. Is it meant to be a one-hour test? A third variable to consider is how long it should take for students to answer each question. For questions that ask students knowledge and comprehension questions (often just facts), it's possible to allot merely 30 seconds to each question, especially if they are multiple choice questions. For questions that call for application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation, you may need to build in additional time, regardless of question format. Time how long it takes to read the question and all possible answers, and then calculate how long you want students to work on solving the problem. Many questions take one minute (this is the closest answer to "common practice"), but if your question calls for complex calculations, it may be wise to allow for much more. Once you know how long each individual question should take, simply add them up for the total allowable time on the test (see the section about quiz settings).

Related to the notion of time allotment is the question of open-book or closed-book exams. If your intent is to gauge student knowledge of facts and easily-researched information, you will want to restrict the time allotted per question, so they could not look everything up in time (and you may also want to adjust the settings in how the questions are displayed, discussed below). One strategy may be to recognize that some students will have the book open and nearby, whether instructed to do so or not, and thus to ask different kinds of questions, such as application or evaluation questions that cannot be simply "looked up." These types of questions may take longer to answer, since you will want to leave time not only for reading the question, but pondering the possibilities.

Exam/Quiz Settings

Your options when creating an assessment include:

  • display all the questions at once or trickle them out one at a time
  • allow or disallow revisiting of questions previously seen
  • constraining the time allowed, once the assessment has been begun by the student
  • establishing a time of day ("window of opportunity") when the test must be taken. Variation: you can allow the window to be days long, not just a period of hours
  • randomize the order of the questions
  • randomize the possible answers in multiple-choice questions
  • allow or disallow repeated attempts on the assessment
  • incorporate images as part of the question
  • "selective release," or setting the conditions of when the assessment is available, or to whom (note: this is not the same tool as 'dates available', but either can be used to restrict available windows of opportunity)

All of the above settings can be used individually, or in concert with each other, to create varied and variable assessments. Because fully-online classes occur without direct instructor supervision of the students, many instructors choose to restrict availability and to introduce as many random elements as possible, the better to minimize cheating.

Question Types

While multiple-choice questions offer the convenience of grading themselves, other types of questions may better serve your course objectives or the learning styles of the students (and many of them can be self-grading as well). The addition of variety will also be welcome by your students. Consider such question types as:

  • calculations
  • fill in the blank
  • jumbled
  • matching
  • paragraph answers
  • short answers

For all of these question types, as well as T/F and multiple choice, you may want to use the "question feedback" option to display a message to students as they view the results of the graded assessment. Crafted the right way, this kind of feedback can minimize or prevent many of the emails you might otherwise receive from students.

Question Sets and Respondus

It is possible to place more questions into Webcourses than you plan to use on the exam, and it is further possible to have each exam dynamically draw a randomized set of questions from your test bank. Thus, each of your fifty students may have slightly different tests from each other. Sometimes textbook publishers will provide you with question sets that can be used for tests.

Creating questions within the Webcourses interface is always an option, but if you would like to upload them, a standalone piece of software called Respondus makes this easy. You need to first download Respondus here: Then email to request the username and password for Respondus, and you can upload a test bank. In fact, many publishers make the test banks available directly through, and available by search.

Uploading via Respondus is largely intuitive, but be certain that you have first converted your question format to the Respondus style. Simply paste your questions to Notepad and save the file as a .txt. Make sure to identify the correct answer with an asterisk. The result looks simply like this:

1. Judging by the song “Part of Your World,” what motivates Ariel the most?
a. Desire for boys
b. Love of Eric specifically
*c. Emancipation from her parents
d. Desire for more knickknacks

2. Ariel’s marriage to Eric functions like a political union
*a. True
b. False

Continue to the next section: Other Technology Tools


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