Scaffolding Assessments

As you develop or redevelop an online course, you may notice that some of your intended assessments are not a good fit. Perhaps they require too much student time-on-task in a given week for them to be able to complete it. Perhaps the large assessment conflicts with other assessments and activities in the course. No matter the circumstance, scaffolding, or breaking assessments into parts that build upon each other, can be a helpful solution  to even out student workload and better manage your own workload for grading.

For large, time-intensive assessments, consider the following:

  1. Are there opportunities for students to practice their learning or draft an assessment before they submit the major exam, project, or presentation?
  2. Do students have the chance to practice with the Educational Technology required for the major assessment? For example, if students submit a 30-minute final presentation via a recording, can they create practice presentations for feedback or complete videos in other, low-stakes ways?
  3. Do students interact with one another’s work for this assessment? Are there peer review opportunities?
  4. Can the larger assessment in the course be reasonably completed by the student in the determined course modality and format? Are there areas of the assessment that can be broken into smaller pieces that can be assessed earlier?
  5. Have you given yourself enough time to provide students quality feedback? Feedback should be timely and substantive, especially on larger assessments. A maximum of 72 hours of wait time is generally suggested for feedback.

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” consider revising the current assessment for scaffolding. Here is an example of how you might scaffold a large, final assessment like a research paper.

In this example, the instructor has broken a large assessment over the course of a 7-week course. Rather than utilizing a large, summative assessment at the conclusion of the course, the larger assessment is broken into smaller, formative assessments that provide opportunity for increased feedback, faculty presence, and community building.

During the first week of the course, the instructor plans to provide clear grading expectations for students and will engage their interest in the assignment.

During weeks two and three, exemplars of student work are provided to give students an even better feel for what is expected of them. At the same time, students are constructing drafts of the assignment.

During weeks four and five, the faculty member is there to provide draft feedback, assist with questions, and control any student frustrations through the review process. Students are regularly interacting with one another during these weeks as their peers review each other’s work.

During week six, students make revisions based on instructor and peer feedback. Students are also welcome to submit an optional draft for additional feedback during this time.

At the end of the semester, or seven-week period, students then submit their final drafts. 

In this example, feedback is provided in a regular and timely manner. There is also an opportunity for the instructor to input small grades at each assessment’s point with students. Scaffolding in this way not only helps improve the final product for the students, but it also helps alleviate the fear of a large assessments impact on their grade. 

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