Authentic Self-Assessment in eLearning

Young man reviews checklist next to computer.

Self-assessment is an incredibly powerful tool to foster self-reflection and growth for all—and it’s especially important for college students. More students take a greater number of courses and programs online. And overall, online learning is generally more self-paced. Students need to build and hone self-assessment skills to help them track their progress and set goals for future weeks, months, years of assignments, projects, and exams.

The Necessity of Self-Assessment

I’ve personally seen structured, constructive self-assessment support students. Prior to my current role as an Assistant Instructional Designer, I was a High School English teacher for 6 years. During my high school teaching career, I earned a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction and conducted research on instructional best practices. When I conducted my research, I was continually brought back to the impact of using self-assessment and self-reflection as a means for students’ academic and personal growth. And especially with an increasingly global and interconnected world, self-assessment and self-reflection are crucial for communication and student success.

The “why” of self-assessment

So why is self-assessment so important for college students (particularly first year students)?

It fosters self-responsibility in students

By routinely building in opportunities for self-assessment, students, over time, learn how to take more ownership of, and pride in, their work. First year students need opportunities to learn how to build an appropriate structure for themselves, especially as college schedules are far less regimented than traditional high school schedules. This includes making a habit of self-assessing their work and progress throughout each course and throughout their academic careers. Unfortunately, it can be easy for any student, without regular self-assessment of work, to have a “disconnect” between what they “want to do and what the occasion demands” (Warner, 2017). When instructors provide students routine exercises in self-reflection, students may be more focused on the goals of the assignment as opposed to feeling lost and disorganized. Students also take more responsibility for acknowledging areas for improvement in their work—and become increasingly more objective and critical academics. Tara also discusses this phenomenon in Student Self-Assessment to Empower Student Learning.

In an August 2022 study conducted amongst a group of 93 high school students, educational researchers found the use of self-assessments, particularly with well-organized rubrics, showed students were able to analyze their own work with “higher absolute accuracy and lower bias” (Krebs, 2022, p. 627). While this study was conducted on high school students, learning will certainly be similar in (late) high school students and first year college students, as the transition between the two academically can prove to be both difficult and immensely rewarding.

It builds student confidence

When students have a better understanding of how they approach, meet, or exceed the expectations of the course, they can feel more in control of their learning. While becoming increasingly self-responsible, they are confident in their content knowledge and skills acquired in the course. John Warner, an Affiliate Professor of English at the College of Charleston, notes that “self-assessment and reflection are powerful ways to tamp down student anxiety by changing the question from ‘How’d you do?” to “What’d you learn?’” (2017). This approach allows instructors to maintain an appropriate level of rigor in the course, while helping students reframe the writing process in a more positive light, as well as the learning process.  This is crucial for first year college students who are in the process of finding balance in a new season of their academic careers.

Feedback, and the course itself, become more robust

From a student perspective, when students need support from instructors in assignments or assessments, they will have a better idea of what types of questions they should ask—and will be able to come to any instructor with more streamlined and specific points for feedback. They will likely feel as though they have more “stakes” in course material and the whole course. From an instructor’s perspective, this relieves some burden of conferencing, so they can be available to guide and provide support to students as they navigate higher-level tasks and provide more in-depth feedback. That way, instructors will not need to focus as much on reviewing basic expectations of a rubric. Even further, self-assessment may increase the robust and rigorous nature of a course, as well.

The “How”: Instructional Ideas for Self-Assessment

Checklists

When I taught high school English, my favorite instructional tools included self-assessment checklists. I would take standards and criteria off of rubrics I created for writing assignments and assessments and make a checklist out of them either in a Google Forms document, editable Google Doc, or a printed hard copy. I asked students to re-read their writing at least once, and then start comparing the checklist to their writing. I also included space under each standard and/or criteria for them to make notes or comments about what they wanted to revise or edit.

(Better!) Rubric Checks

As I mentioned previously, rubric checks cannot be conducted haphazardly—nor be an afterthought. A more authentic way to use rubrics as a self-assessment checkpoint would be by making them a follow-up activity to the checklist self-assessment. After completing a self-assessment checklist, students can have a copy of the rubric next to their writing. This is just one example of a rubric (Figure 1) that I used on a college prep, 12th grade literature survey course (that could easily be tailored for a college-level course):

Rubric example breaks down criteria of Thesis, Evidence, Analysis, Connections to the Real-World, Organization, Conventions, and Assignment Expectations into achievable descriptions.
Figure 1: Rubric Example

For more tips and tricks for writing rubrics across content areas, you can check out Ann’s article on Creating Effective Rubrics.

An editable Google Doc would work well, but I would recommend a print copy as well. Students can read their writing once more and then start reading through the rubric. Students read through each category of the rubric and review what mastery looks like for each skill. A student can look at everything they have already highlighted and annotated on the first “read-through” of their own writing (post-checklist exercise).

Authentic self-assessment is crucial in the learning process, and can in turn make eLearning courses more robust for both students and instructors. Self-assessment fosters responsibility and confidence in students, leading to positive lifelong habits in academia and beyond. As educators, we can provide checklists and clear rubrics to support students in consistently building their self-reflection and critical thinking skills across content areas. 

References

Krebs, R., Rothstein, B., & Roelle, J. (2022). Rubrics enhance accuracy and reduce cognitive load in self-assessment. Metacognition and Learning17(2), 627-650. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220670309596625

Warner, J. (2017, August 10). Self-assessment leads to rigor/self-regulation. Inside Higher Ed. 

Author: Audrey Foust, Assistant Instructional Designer

Audrey is an Assistant Instructional Designer at Spring Arbor University. She draws from her experience as a former High School English teacher to research best practices in curriculum and instruction. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, reading, running, and cooking.

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