Setting Goals and Evaluation for an On-Line Course

With the recent focus on outcomes for learning, I decided to provide students taking the first on-line course at Albany Law School with written goals for the semester.  The following was posted for the students:

COURSE GOALS:

By the end of the course, students who participate fully should be able to:

1)    APPLY acquired knowledge of government ethics laws in general, and regulations that apply specifically to government lawyers, statewide and nationally to challenges facing individuals who work in the public sector at any level of government in any state;

2)    RECOGNIZE & EVALUATE differing perspectives surrounding the public policy goals and dynamics of regulating the conduct of public officials and employees, and the roles of the various oversight agencies involved in the education, enforcement and prosecution of public actors for alleged civil and/or criminal wrongdoing;

3)    EXAMINE CRITICALLY  laws (existing and proposed), policies, systems and structures which govern  those who work in the public sector as well as those in the private sector who interact with government employees to identify applicable laws, loopholes and opportunities; and

4)    DEMONSTRATE COLLABORATION/COLLEAGIALITY AND PROFESSIONALISM through participation in the active on-line and team learning aspects of the course which will be essential to effective client counseling and representation and/or negotiation in the development of ethics laws and regulations.

Naturally, students want to know how they will be evaluated.  This required a lot of consideration for an on-line class.  When I previously taught the course I told the students I expected that they follow the Law School’s published attendance policy, and that class participation and completion of assignments would count towards their grade.  Since the course was taught seminar style, in lieu of an exam, students were required to submit a 20-25 page research paper at the end of the semester. The paper was weighted significantly in calculating grades. 

After reflecting on the goals to make sure that the students were being evaluated appropriately based on the desired outcomes, I developed the following grading rubric:

Assessment/Grading:  Your performance will be assessed throughout the semester as you participate in on-line discussions, and complete wikis and other assignments.  The amount of time you spend on-line in the course site and its various component assignments, combined with the quality of your postings which should reflect the knowledge and skills you acquire as the semester goes on, will be incorporated the feedback you receive during the semester as well as in your final grade.

Effort reflected by time on line                                                                  25%

Completion of all assignments and discussions                                  25%

(quality demonstrating reading and reflection of materials and other student comments)

Accurate and comprehensive completion of                                         25%   

Wiki assignments

Accurate and comprehensive completion of group                              25%

project

In future postings I will describe the discussion boards, the use of wikis and the group project.  To determine time on line, which is the closest I could come to an attendance policy for an on-line course, I told students I would view the “activity” reports provided by TWEN.  I cautioned students that I would be able to tell who simply logged on to the TWEN site and then left for a couple of hours with the browser open to make it appear as though they were actively engaged in reviewing information on the site.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

3 Responses

  1. Especially for this on-line course, Professor Salkin’s specificity as to her goals reflects her awareness of the recent focus on outcomes assessment. In addition, by spelling out her goals to her students, she’s reinforcing for them how she envisions the course, and in a way that’s both familiar to them and consistent with the course format (on-line). In a wonderful example of “Best Practices,” she focuses on “demonstrating collaboration,” emphasizing the skills of counseling and negotiating that her students will need as practicing attorneys. Her discussion of grading lets the students know, from the beginning, what she’s going to be “looking for” from them; this is so helpful to students.

    I’m working on additional methods of providing students with information concerning grades and how they are to be evaluated. I’ve begun to incorporate “competencies” into my clinical course (immigration), and am working on a grading rubric and explanations that parallel ones used by legal writing faculty. Such rubric describe what the various grades (A A-, B+, B, B-, etc.) represent, on assignments and competencies as well as final grades. These descriptions should help students understand why they get the various grades they’ve earned, and should help them focus specifically on competencies they need to develop to enhance their grades. As I put this together, I’ll share it on our Blog.

  2. Irene, if you would share your competencies development it would be really helpful as we all try to be more specific and descriptive. It is this kind of experimental sharing – which is admittedly a vulnerable-making process – which will allow us to progress towards measurable outcomes.

  3. This is an excerpt from BlogU (Inside Higher Ed News) entitled Learning From Online on December 7, 2009. Patty thought it would be a good idea to post it as we discuss online teaching:

    “Since most professors have spent their lives holding forth from the front of a lecture hall, many have not had to engineer their lesson plans with the sort of rigor required of a well-designed online course… When teaching online, you have to pay more attention to the navigation of the course, the clarity of the course, the objectives of the course, the reason why you’re assigning activities and assessments, [and make] certain everything is perfectly clear to the students. In a face-to-face situation, you can get by with just coming in and not having prepared and winging a class session. You can’t do that online. Or rather, you can’t do that online if you expect students to learn well. You can develop a really bad online course, without necessarily knowing it….”

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