There are many types of assessments that can be used within online courses—for example,
authentic assessment, testing, self-assessment, reflective assessment, portfolio, WebQuests, and
collaborative assessment (Dee Fink, 2013; Stavredes & Herder, 2014). Table 8-4 includes a summary
of the types of assessments that we have found effective in online course design. When choosing a
strategy, several factors need to be considered, including the philosophy of the faculty, the purpose
of the assessment, the learning domain, the setting, and the effectiveness of the strategy, along with
other incidental factors, such as time for preparation, implementation, and grading (Kirkpatrick &
DeWitt, 2020). We also consider the concepts that are being taught. The types of assessments that
best lend themselves to assessing conceptual learning among postlicensure students are authentic
assessment, self-assessment, reflection, and collaborative work, which is in keeping with our
constructivist approach to learning.
Integration of Assessment and Learning Activities
When planning assessment strategies, the design of learning activities must be considered because
they are very much integrated into online courses. We use the discussion forums, blogs, and journals
found in most learning management systems (LMSs) because they provide excellent opportunities to
design integrated learning and assessment. Table 8-5 includes common learning activities that can
be created using the tools in multiple LMSs, along with the purpose of the activities.
The discussion of these tools is limited to course design in this chapter. Deeper discussion of each
learning activity follows in the next chapter on online teaching strategies (see Chapter 9). We also
use WebQuests, an inquiry-oriented strategy in which most or all of the information comes from the
web. Students explore and gather information, analyze it, and share their findings and
recommendations through collaborative discussion with their peers and faculty (Stavredes & Herder,
2014). As an example, we have used WebQuests to require students to find and assess resources for
a particular health-related problem in their community.
Discussion forums are places in which students can collaborate asynchronously in response to an
initial post written by faculty or possibly a student moderator. Activities created in the discussion
forum “may include text, audio, video and images” (Vai & Sosulski, 2016, p. 20). When designing
discussion forums, there are several considerations, including how many students to have in the
discussion, how to construct the initial post as a question or prompt, the expectations, and how to
assess the learning. When discussion groups are too large or too small, the quality of the discussion
may be diminished. We have found that an average of 8–12 students provides for an opportunity to
have collaboration in which the application of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is
most effective (Vygotsky, 1978/1997). In many online platforms, discussion groups can be set up so
that students in one group can see the work of the other groups. Small, private groups of five or six
students may contribute to students reading every post within their forum, but the opportunity to
learn and engage with more nurses with various degrees of experience is very limited. These small,
private groups should be limited to group work, not class discussions.
The construction of the discussion question or prompt is a very important consideration. The most
important thing to consider is how the prompt can lead to meeting the purpose of discussions,
which is collaborative learning in which students develop higher-order thinking skills. The role of the
faculty in advancing this purpose should not be underestimated and is discussed more specifically in
The discussion board is often considered the equivalent of a face-to-face class discussion, but there
are some unique differences. Discussions often require students to support their posts with
evidence from the course materials and other literature. Asynchronous discussions also allow time
for students to thoughtfully respond. In many ways, this can facilitate a higher-level discussion than
what is ordinarily achieved in the face-to-face classroom.
Boettcher and Conrad (2010) suggest a three-part discussion prompt that includes what the
learners’ thoughts and recommendations are and why the learners think what they do, including
thoughts, experiences, and beliefs. The third part is having learners state what they wish they knew
or what problems or challenges will follow. These suggestions are important for developing
discussions that avoid simple right-or-wrong answers that may result in repetitive responses that do
not advance higher-level thinking. Discussions that have a “right” answer are equivalent to short-
answer knowledge questions on a test but shared with the class to be judged. Some examples of
discussion questions are provided in Table 8-6. As a reminder, all learning activities should relate to
the module learning objectives, which are designed to meet the course outcomes. Module
development and learning objectives are discussed further in this chapter.
Blogs can serve as a less formal opportunity to create interaction in the online classroom by
requiring students to reflect on certain topics and share their opinions. We use blogs for
controversial topics or to bring awareness to an issue. The intent is to give students the opportunity
to share diverse opinions and perspectives without being judged. Students comment on their peers’
blogs, but there is no requirement to carry the discussion forward as in the discussion forum. They
may respectfully disagree and present their perspectives in the comments.
Blogs have been very successful in our population health course; students enjoy the less formal
activity and appreciate discussing personal opinions about challenging community and public health
topics (Robinson, 2017). In order to promote meaningful discussion, students are assigned to read,
listen to, or view a variety of different materials, such as YouTube videos, TED talks, podcasts, and
web resources with reliable public health data to highlight prevalence. Some topics for blogs that we
have used include human trafficking, rape on the reservation, rural oral health disparities, gun
violence in the United States, and the opioid epidemic, to name a few (Robinson, 2017).
We have also used blogs to address a number of challenging practice issues encountered by nurses.
For example, in a comprehensive leadership case study, a nurse manager is faced with terminating
two nurses for ongoing incivility. The blog in response to this case study was effective for eliciting a
diversity of opinions about the manger’s leadership style and the impact of this action on the other