Scalable assessment and feedback in Open Online Education (OOE)?

By July 26, 2016English

A growing challenge in education is to facilitate high-quality education for an increasing number of students. Within online education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great example of courses that are challenged by high student numbers when trying to support them. How can MOOCs provide high quality learning activities to high student numbers without increasing teacher time and without cutting down on quality?

What we often see in MOOCs is that they already apply learning activities that are suitable for high student numbers, such as watching videos or making quizzes. On the one hand, providing students with high-quality video material is a learning activity that can reach thousands of students. Nevertheless, the amount and quality of what students learn from videos can be limited. On the other hand, high quality learning activities such as simulations are not easy to scale up, yet enable students to engage in complex learning activities.

However, when looking from an educational quality perspective the meaningfulness of such learning activities is limited. The meaningfulness of a learning activity depends on several aspects such as enabling students to link their gained knowledge to existing knowledge and to the real world, acquiring new and/or applying their skills.

This research seeks to get insight into the possibilities of extending meaningful learning activities to high student numbers. We want to approach this scalability challenge by focusing on three aspects: (1) cost, (2) quality and (3) scale.

The cost aspect, within this research, includes mainly teacher bandwidth. Limited teacher time is an important and limiting factor in open online education and therefore should be taken into account when designing courses for large scale.

One way to influence the cost aspect is by focussing on the interaction types and interaction richness that takes place between students, teacher and the course material. According to Anderson (2003) six interaction types can be distinguished, see Figure 1.

Figure 1. Interaction types in Education




Interaction is an important aspect during learning and in order to engage in deep and meaningful learning, students require support and feedback (Anderson, 2003).

Since the teacher time is limited it is important to minimize student-teacher interaction. When minimizing student-teacher interaction, other interactions for example those between students (student-student) should be more dominant.

It is said that students should engage actively in relevant learning activities to construct knowledge and to achieve the intended learning outcomes but how can we enable this in MOOCs with thousands of participating students (Biggs, 2003; Blumberg, 2009)?

The quality aspect in this research will be approached by focussing on constructive alignment and task complexity. According to the concept of constructive alignment, learning goals/outcomes should be aligned with learning activities and assessment (Biggs, 2003). This means that there should be a consistency between what students are ought to learn and the way students are taught and assessed.

Sometimes a discrepancy is seen between the complexity level of the intended learning goals and the actual complexity of learning activities and assessment. When striving for learning goals on a high complexity level such applying skills in (simulated) real-life situations students should be offered learning activities that match such a level in order to acquire the learning goals.

How can we design learning activities on a high complexity level, that are suitable for high student numbers, without putting too much burden on the teachers? When trying to improve the scalability of open online learning and assessment, several aspects should be taken into account. It is clearly not enough to provide high scale learning activities that do not provide students with deep learning experiences.



Anderson, T. (2003). Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 4(2). Retrieved from

Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning teaching for constructive learning. Higher Education Academy, 1- 4 . Retrieved from

Blumberg, P. (2009). Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge. Innovative Higher  Education, 34, 93-103.

Author Julia Kasch

PhD student at the Welten Institute (Research Center for Learning, Teaching and Technology) of the Dutch Open University. Her PhD project is part of the SOONER project which is about the structuration of open online education in the Netherlands. Within her research she focuses on scalability solutions within Open Online Education regarding several aspects such as support, assessment and feedback methods. She is a member of the ICO research school (Interuniversity Center for Educational Sciences) and her background lies in Psychology and Learning Sciences. After completing her Bachelor (2013) and Master (2014) studies at Twente University, she worked at Bartiméus Foundation, as a researcher on a short term project (8 months). The Bartiméus Foundation provides education for blind and visually impaired children and young people. During her work at Bartiméus Foundation, Julia focused on supporting text comprehension, recall and information search in blind and visually students by adapting text designs.

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