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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

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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

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

Chapter 9.


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




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