Five Classroom Assessment Techniques for the Online Classroom

online student on laptop

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are valuable tools for helping faculty find out what students are learning and how well they’re learning it. Since the 1988 release of Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross, college teachers have been using CATs to gauge student learning and reflect on their teaching. As teachers learn what challenges students are encountering, they can address those deficits and design learning activities to better support student learning before students are confronted with an exam or other high-stakes activities.

But can well-known CATs like the muddiest point and minute papers be used in the online classroom? Yes, with a few modifications, your favorite CATs are effective in gauging online student learning. Stephanie Delaney, PhD, dean for extended learning at Seattle Central Community College, offers guidance on moving five popular CATs online.

Muddiest Point

How to: Ask your students, “What was the muddiest point?” In other words, what was the most confusing thing covered in the last class session or module.

Good for: Identifying areas of confusion.

Keep in mind: Be sure to have a strategy for responding to confusing points and communicate that plan to the students. For example, you might want to post a supplemental lecture, reference a website with more information, or post some good examples of student work that helps explain the subject.

Moving Online: In your Learning Management System (LMS) use your survey tool or your discussion board. Outside of the LMS, try Google Forms or Survey Monkey.

Minute Paper

How to: Ask your students two questions:

  • What was the most important thing you learned today in class (or in this module)?
  • What question remains unanswered?

Good for: Seeing if students are understanding the key points and for identifying points of confusion.

Keep in mind: Be sure to have a strategy for responding to confusing points and communicate that plan to the students. For example, you might want to post a supplemental lecture, reference a website with more information, or post some model student work that helps explain the subject.

Moving Online: Use LMS anonymous survey tool, Google Forms, or Poll Everywhere

Background Knowledge Probe

How to: Create a short, simple questionnaire to determine what the students know about a subject.

Good for: You can use this as a pre-test activity. It is good for assessing prior knowledge, recall, and understanding.

Keep in mind: You can also use this probe to make things you cover in class more relevant to the student. Use it to discover areas of particular interest to the students in the class.

Moving Online: Use your survey feature, learning journal or, if available, private discussion boards (discussion boards where students can only see their own posts, so it is private between the student and instructor). Outside of the LMS, try Google Forms or a similar tool.

Student-Generated Test Questions

How to: Ask students to submit two-three test questions and the correct answers.

Good for: Use this to assess student understanding of the materials in a non-graded manner before major exams.

Keep in mind: You may want to ask for the questions far enough in advance to give students feedback on the answers. To highlight students critical thinking skills, have students submit an outline or sample response for essay questions. For objective questions, have them provide explanations of right and wrong answers.

Moving Online: Use the question pool feature in your LMS testing tool to provide a variety of questions. You can include the student questions as part of a larger test pool or use your LMS quiz/test feature to have some questions come from a pool of student questions while others come from faculty generated questions.

Pro and Con Grid

How to: Have students create a grid that lists

  • pros and cons,
  • advantages and disadvantages, or
  • costs and benefits

Good for: Assessing critical thinking skills

Keep in mind: Unlike many of the other CATs suggested here, this one takes some time to read, so it might be more appropriate with smaller classes.

Moving Online: In your LMS, use the Post First discussion board feature, if available. This would also be appropriate for using the assignment tool, but be sure to leave it ungraded.

Additional references and resources on CATs (as recommended by Delaney)
Classroom Assessment Techniques by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire Howell Major, and K. Patricia Cross, Second Edition, Jossey-Bass (2014)

This is the definitive book on Classroom Assessment Techniques. It is a practical handbook, meant to be used by practicing instructors. The book starts by giving the reader an understanding of CATs and their general uses. Then it lists dozens of CATs to try, organized by the learning task – discussion, problem solving, etc. Each CAT is explained, its preparation described, and then several examples follow, showing how the CAT can be used effectively in different settings. If you only get one book on CATs, this is it.

50 CATs by Angelo and Cross

If you don’t need the detail of the book or just want some ideas, check out this quick list of classroom assessment techniques, compiled from the first edition of Classroom Assessment Techniques. Each technique has a short explanation. Some are enough to run with, but those that aren’t give you enough information to know whether you want to do additional research.

Adapted from the supplemental materials for the 20-Minute Mentor How can I Use Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) Online?

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