By Alex Fisher, Instructor of Accounting
Redesigning for the Online Learning Environment
Transitioning to the remote learning environment from face-to-face has raised some challenges, but also offered a unique opportunity for overall course improvement. In my experience, I’ve found that not all assessments translate 1:1 as each environment carries its own set of pros, cons, and administrative considerations. However, I found that when an assessment is well designed to clearly align with its learning outcomes (LOs), it can work well in either environment regardless. Achieving this flexibility takes time and is the result of an iterative process as you continue tweaking and improving assessments after your initial design.
Below I share some personal examples and considerations for redesigning your assessments for the online environment. These have been inspired by my own personal experience as well as input from our Schulich community. They can help ensure learning outcomes are met, reduce the possibility of academic dishonesty, and build in variation opportunities to keep content current each term.
There is considerable room for changes to your assessments as long as they don’t impact your course’s learning outcomes, core content, or contradict any policies, procedures, or guidelines.
Start With Your Learning Outcomes
Your learning outcomes (LOs) are key guidelines when (re)designing your course content and assessments. Ask yourself, “what should students be able to do at the end of this course?” and “do my assessments align with the LOs?” Consider the following:
- Does your course include a mix of quantitative and qualitative assessment types?
- Do your assessments reveal and reward the process and the ability to analyze and think critically?
- Do your assessments do more than require students to calculate the final answer?
- Do your assessments look like the kind of activity students will be doing when they enter the workforce?
- Are your assessments designed in a way that prioritizes the students’ learning outcomes?
Note that more qualitative assessments may increase workloads for both students and instructors, but they may also be necessary to achieve your LOs. Find an appropriate balance between achieving LOs and student and instructor workloads to ensure no one is overwhelmed.
Assessment Redesign Example – Before & After
When transforming a question, first agree on the key LOs which are your goals and guiding principles. For example, below are the principal thematic learning outcomes for ACTG 2010, Introduction to Financial Accounting as outlined in the Course Syllabus (which are further disaggregated into about 60 topic-specific learning objectives which are presented to students on a class-by-class basis). By the end of ACTG 2010, students will be expected to:
- Have developed a foundational understanding of the accounting processes that underlie financial statements.
- Be familiar with the standard forms of accounting reports, and able to prepare and interpret them.
- Develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Understand the needs of different users of accounting reports, and to choose and evaluate the financial information appropriate to these users.
- Be able to select appropriate accounting information from financial statements, and use it effectively for decision making.
- Have developed a critical understanding of the many roles of financial accounting information in organizations and society.
Keep these LOs in mind to see how they align with the following ‘before’ and ‘after’ example of a related midterm question on cash flows. Originally students were required to build a cash flow statement from provided data. The redesigned version instead provided a final cash flow statement / balance sheet initially, and required students to explain it, analyze it, and determine what is was for.