8 Assessment and Feedback

A student works on a laptop
A student works on their online course. Image provided by the University of Baltimore.


Assessment is a systematic process used by instructors to help them understand what students are learning and whether students are meeting course learning goals.  The ultimate goals of assessment are to improve and inform the instructor’s teaching practice and student learning.

According to Suskie (2018), the assessment process includes

  • Establishing clear, observable expected goals for student learning;
  • Ensuring that students have sufficient opportunities to achieve those goals;
  • Systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence of how well student learning meets those goals;
  • Using the resulting information to understand and improve student learning. (p. 8)

A successful assessment strategy begins with “backward design” (Linder, 2017; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998) in which instructors align course activities, assignments, and assessments with course goals and learning outcomes.

Formative, summative, and “authentic” assessment methods provide opportunities for instructors to gauge student learning during and at the completion of the learning cycle.


Feedback is essential for student learning, but it can be a challenge to provide meaningful feedback that students review and use to inform their future work. Feedback that is unfocused, unclear, or that comes too late for a student to implement can be unhelpful and frustrating. Effective feedback is goal-oriented, specific, actionable, and timely. Feedback decreases the “transactional distance” between the instructor and students. It makes students more engaged and learning outcomes improve (Moore, 1991; Ice et al, 2007; Gray and DiLoreto, 2016).

Feedback, like assessment, can be both formative and summative. As you plan learning tasks, consider points of challenge or difficulty for students. Structure assignments so that students receive formative feedback that can be applied to summative assignments or assessments.

Feedback can take many forms, including written, audio, and video. Consider asking students what type of feedback the prefer to receive and experiment with providing audio or video feedback for learners who indicate a preference for these types. In online courses especially, audio and visual feedback are perceived by students to increase their sense of their instructor’s presence and caring (Orlando, 2011; Ice et al, 2007).

Rubrics that specify evaluation criteria and delineate performance levels can help structure feedback and ensure that it is targeted to learning goals. A rubric’s efficacy is increased when it is thoroughly explained to and unpacked by students. In this way, rubrics can also guide students through peer feedback activities and support their self-assessment.

As you consider how to provide feedback to students, think about the following:

  • What are your students’ preferences for feedback?
  • Can students readily access the feedback?
  • Does the type of feedback support the learning goals of the assignment?
  • What type of feedback and how much is feasible for you to provide?
  • How can you establish routines to help you provide timely feedback?

After providing feedback, consider asking students to provide feedback in turn. Questions prompts might include: Was the feedback clear?  Sufficiently detailed? Of an appropriate amount?  Similarly, asking students to reflect on feedback and explain how they have implemented can help increase the feedback’s efficacy and support learning goals.


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Online Teaching Handbook Copyright © 2021 by The Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, and Technology at The University of Baltimore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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