Designing Assessments to Promote Concept Retention

Designing assessments for your course that help your students learn and retain skills, theories, and gain mastery will encourage student success, as well as provide inherent motivation to complete the tasks you assign. By employing a variety of assessment types, you can provide opportunities for students with different learning styles to understand and absorb key components and foundational concepts. Online courses offer a number of opportunities such as video presentations, case studies and analyses, group projects, as well as group discussions and reviews. Professors can also make use of feedback tools in order to provide coaching, constructive feedback, and address misconceptions. If you are able to design effective assessments which guide students towards learning and concept mastery, students will realize greater value from their time spent in your course.

When coming up with assessments for your course, keep in mind that these interactions between your students and your assignments are also opportunities to coach students toward learning, rather than correct them. As students move through your course and encounter new concepts, use new skills, or change the way they think about a topic, your assessments can guide students toward your desired learning outcomes. Following are several ideas for assessment types which promote different types of skill curation, concept retention, and mastery.

Syllabus questionnaires

One simple method for promoting engagement within the course is self-analysis. At the beginning of a semester, try assigning surveys or questionnaires which ask the student to assess their own experience with course prerequisites, or their knowledge of the course’s materials and concepts. Be sure to allow space for the student to include goals they have for the time they spend in your course, or outcomes they hope to achieve. Asking some simple questions about the syllabus will encourage students to read through it. Require students to look at your learning objectives and alignments with assessments and activities. By having students be aware of your expectations at the beginning of the semester, they can be better prepared to engage with the assigned learning materials.

Concept checks and post-exam reviews via live sessions

Live class sessions hosted through tools like Adobe Connect or Zoom can be used in a variety of ways in online classes. A couple of great ways to incorporate them into your assessment design are through post-exam reviews and concept check problems or questions.

Concept check. Try incorporating the concept check into your grading structure by assigning a total weight of 8% – 10% of the total grade—encouraging students to take advantage of a grade boosting opportunity—in which students are given the chance to test their understanding of important concepts throughout the semester either individually or in groups. After the concept check is due, host a live meeting and discuss the concept check with your class. The fact that students can gain an entire letter grade by completing these assignments will encourage participation.

Post-exam reviews. Host a live review session after an exam has closed. Allow students to share their approaches to various questions and problems from the exam. Encourage them to voice feedback on the exam itself, or on any questions they found particularly challenging or confusing. Use the session as an opportunity to correct common misconceptions, or to reinforce any concepts which students needed to keep in mind while taking the exam. Afterwards, allow a limited window of time during which students can re-do portions of the exam and boost their original score.

Video presentations and practicums

Use video assessments in your online course to encourage the performance of skills and concepts in a live setting. By giving students the opportunity to explain concepts and real-world scenarios or situations in their own words, your assessments can encourage students to internalize material.

Video presentations. Allowing students to perform brief video presentations is a great way to encourage engagement and discussion between students. Video presentations help students learn to form and organize arguments, curate relevant sources and research material, as well as develop their presentation skills. Try using time limits to encourage students to spend more time preparing, rehearsing, and editing their presentation. A shorter time limit will require students to cut down on superfluous information and get to the root of their topic. Consider including guiding questions and prompts in order to get focused presentations. Provide rubrics to show students which components must be present in order to excel at the assessment. Open up opportunities for peer feedback by having students embed their video presentations in the discussion board.

Practicums. The practicum allows students to practice their skills and mastery in relevant settings. Try assigning students to perform a research experiment by conducting surveys and interviews. Require students to teach a topic via a video presentation. Be sure to suggest particular criteria in order to create a framework for the assignment, such as a rubric or assessment guidelines. If you are using an optional text for your course, assign various students to teach a chapter and upload their video to the discussion board.

Further Reading

If you are interested in incorporating other forms of assessment design which promote learner retention and concept mastery, we recommend the following articles:

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