The use of a marking system to assess student performance is a general practice in education institutions. The evaluation methods are incorporated into the designated grading structure in a specific course. The grading structure in the syllabus also serves as a channel to communicate to students concerning the level of meeting instructor expectations and learning objectives. The result of the learning, or the grade, is normally in the form of percentage of points available in assignments such as quizzes, case study reports, and exams. A vast body of literature has examined the impact of various grading policies on learning and studies indicate that effective grading policies may effectively motivate student learning (Elikai & Schuhmann, 2010). The motivational aspect of grading and evaluation methods is even more important in distance learning courses, where the instructor-student communication is restricted.
The purpose of this study is to provide an exploratory analysis of different assessment methods adopted in online management courses in a regional university. The analysis includes comparisons among student effort on various types of methods assessing student learning and course performance. The findings can help instructors understand how to better prepare evaluation structure, engage students, and enhance learning.
Paradigm Shift in Education
Distance learning has blossomed in recent years as higher education community is aware of the efficacy of disseminating knowledge via Internet. Per National Center for Education Statistics (2008), "65 percent of postsecondary institutions reported college-level credit granting distance education courses and a total of an estimated 12.2 million enrollments" in the 2006-07 academic year. This rapid adoption progress of distance learning has invoked the academic debate on whether distance learning is an effective course delivery format (Bennett & Green, 2001; Bernard et al., 2004; Trawick, Lile, & Howsen, 2010). Although many empirical comparisons have been done to examine whether distance learning outperforms traditional learning format from different aspects, no consensus can be reached.
The rapid development of emerging technologies has made possible to support both asynchronous communication (e.g. email, discussion forum and etc.) and synchronous communication (e.g. chat, webcasting and etc.) in online environment. As a result, distance education becomes more competitive due to its superior flexibility and comparative effectiveness. Bennett (2002) finds that, despite less social interactions in distance learning courses, students achieve similar outcome, satisfaction and experience regardless of the teaching format used in a sport management course. A longitudinal study conducted by McLaren (2004) shows that learning outcome measured by the final grade in the business statistics course for persistent students is independent of the mode of instruction. Terry (2007) reports that student performance on class assignments in MBA courses is equivalent across different instruction modes. Therefore, we believe that technology advancement has shifted a paradigm in education.
Assessment in Distance Education
Assessment is critical to the success of any instructional design and the quality of learning (Benson, 2003). In particular, the development of distance learning courses generally costs more time and resources and students' feedback is hard to receive in time. Therefore, how to identify appropriate assessment methods for online learning becomes challenging (Dewald, et al., 2000). Assessment can be conducted for different purposes. The focus of this study is to identify effective assessment methods of student performance in distance learning courses, which may differ from those currently used in conventional learning environment.
Assessment methods are categorized as formative or summative. …