eCoaching Tip 104 Favorite Assessment Strategies — What is Yours?

December 11 2012

eCoaching Tip 104:  Favorite Assessment Strategies — What is Yours?

Designing and teaching for assessing learning is always a challenge. How often do we think to ourselves, “Oh, if I only didn’t have to do grades for each of my students!” Or, “How I wish we could just focus on learning!”

In this continuing series on the voices of faculty from Duquesne’s School of Leadership and Professional Advancement, Bridget Calhoun and Doug Penhallegon share their favorite assessment strategies and those of their students.  The challenge of identifying your favorite assessment is to achieve the goal of learning and gathering evidence of learning while enjoying the teaching and learning process. As you read this, think about which assignments you and your students most enjoy and learn from most effectively.

Two Guest Faculty

Our two guest faculty both teach courses in the Master of Science in Leadership with a concentration in Global Leadership. Bridget Calhoun is a full time faculty at Duquesne and department chair of the Physician Assistant Studies Program in the Rangos School of Health Sciences. Bridget teaches a series of clinical problem solving courses for the physician assistant program on campus, but has also been teaching online with the School of Leadership since 2011. She teaches the online course Global Health Issues. It is from this course that she shares her favorite assessment strategies.

Our second guest faculty member is Doug Penhallegon. Doug is an adjunct at Duquesne while pursuing his Ph.D. in political science with a focus on international relations and comparative politics at George Mason University. He is currently teaching the course, Understanding the Global Political Arena.Doug shares his favorite assessment strategies from this course.

Seven Gentle Reminders about Assessment Practices

As you “listen in” on the conversations that follow, watch for the clues that suggest these seven (7) gentle reminders about effective assessment practices.

  • Timely and personal feedback, feedback, feedback.
  • Use rubrics and include those rubrics upfront with your assignments. This makes expectations clear.
  • Provide choices for projects. A starting list of possible topics/projects is helpful.
  • Diversify assessment strategies and tools so you assess the range of knowledge and skills, ranging from simple objective discipline data to applying complex problem-solving skills as recommended by Bloom’s taxonomy.
  • Diversify assessments so that your questions and strategies are not too “predictable.” Remember that most learners have curious brains that seek out and enjoy novelty and discovery.
  • Design in strategies such as peer consulting and input to leverage students’ strengths and build community.
  • Design assessments that result in ongoing lifelong and discipline learning for you, the faculty member.

Assessment Plan for the course — Global Political Arena

Identifying one’s favorite assessment strategy requires first getting a sense of the overall assessment plan. Here is a bird’s eye view of Doug’s assessment plan.

You will see that a major element of the course assessment is the set of homework assignments that students complete based on the week’s readings. Students complete the readings, and then respond to questions posed by Doug.  These questions require students to carefully read, reflect and analyze parts of the readings.  Students then post their assignments to the forum. A second major element is the discussions that result from the readings, questions, and dialogue. What turns out to be one of the favorite assessments for the students are the homework assignments coupled with the individual feedback emails from Doug responding to their homework assignments. Students make a point of highlighting that they really appreciate the feedback and the obvious individual attention. In other words, it is clear that Doug reads, listens to and responds to the students individually. Doug also commented that “I liketo diversify the kinds of questions that I ask them to respond to” on the discussion forums.

Another interesting part of this overall assessment plan is what Doug calls “transition weeks.”  These are two weeks where there are no readings or formal discussion forum activities.  Rather, these transition weeks provide time for the students to work on assigned papers. These are analysis papers focusing on international political issues that involve at least two countries engaged in some type of conflict or disagreement.

Rounding out the assessment plan are two collaborative projects that make use of the glossary tool within Moodle. One of the collaborative projects focuses on basic discipline concepts and vocabulary. This assignment requires students to add ten items to the overall course glossary.  The second collaborative project is similar; it requires students to post ten annotated entries to the course bibliography.  This is quite open-ended. Students can post an entry for any resource they find that is interesting as long as it is relevant to course content.  Students post entries from sources such as the NYTimes, or the Atlantic Monthly, but every so often they will post a more formal academic article. Their job is to post the bibliographic entry and a summary of their “find.”  Doug commented that, “This is my favorite assessment strategy because these finds are probably stuff that I might not be familiar with. It is fun and interesting to see what they find useful and also interesting to read their justifications for including an article in an annotated bibliography on world politics.”

As a final note, Doug said that he relies heavily on a rubric for providing feedback and grading on the homework, forums and the papers.

Assessment Plan for the course — Global Health Issues

Here is an overview of the assessment plan for Bridget Calhoun’s course on Global Heath Issues.  Bridget emphasized that the students in this course are not health professionals. Rather, they are taking the course to develop an understanding of the challenges of dealing with global health issues and the cultural, economic, political and environmental context.

To develop this understanding, Bridget uses a course length project strategy that has students assume the role of a project manager for a new health initiative. This immerses learners into a complex context, somewhat of their own choosing.  Students work on this project through a series of assignments, culminating in a capstone project where they put it all together.

The assessment plan at a glance:

Favorite Part of the Assessment

As to what parts of the assessment plan students enjoy most, Bridget believes that the students most enjoy the opportunity to do peer consulting on their fellow students’ projects.  Such projects require a range of management, financial, team and marketing skills.  She sees significant energy and involvement on the discussion forum, as students bring a wealth of experience to this course and eagerly share, support and guide each other.  This process readily develops an awareness of the systemic implications of programs in addition to building community.

Other Tips on Assessment

Many previous ecoaching tips, resources and webinars in the SLPA Faculty Webinar Community have great stories and ideas about assessment practices. Also, I like to frequently refer to the set of 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning when designing courses. This is a classic set of assessment principles developed almost 20 years ago and well worth a quick look. If you are interested in a comprehensive look at assessing student learning, a good starting point is the book by Linda Suskie.


American Association for Higher Education. (1996). 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning. Retrieved December 4 from

Boettcher, J. V. (2009) eCoaching Tip 64: Three Best Practices in Assessment.  Retrieved December 5 2012 from

Boettcher, J. V.  (2007, 2012)  eCoaching Tip 38: Using Projects for Assessment and Best Practices for Helping Learners with Projects. Retrieved December 5 2012 from

Boettcher, J. V. (2011). Evidence of Learning Online: Assessment Beyond the Paper. Campus Technology.  Retrieved from

Moallem, M. (2005). Designing and managing student assessment in an online learning environment In P. Comeaux (Ed.), Assessing online learning,pp. 18 to 33. Bolton, MA. Anker Publishing. Retrieved December 5 2012 from a very detailed book review.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Course Descriptions:

Global Health Issues – Master of Science in Leadership, Concentration in Global Leadership

This course explores the major health challenges experienced throughout the world today, including such issues as waterborne diseases, malaria, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, inadequate access to health care, clean water and sanitation. The cultural, economic, political and environmental factors contributing to their existence (and their persistence) are also examined, as are current strategies to address these health issues and their root causes.


Understanding the Global Political Arena

This course begins with an historical overview to help students understand the events that, over time, have led to the political, social and economic issues affecting the world today. The discussion then turns to the issues that are having the strongest impact on the current global political arena, including access to natural resources, territorial and ethnic disputes, international trade and investments, terrorism, technological advancements and the current global financial crisis.


Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher