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THU: Role of Assessment in MOOCs - Exploring the Challenges (Heather Bloodworth)

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Heather Bloodworth
8 January 2017


MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is part of a new paradigm of education that provides the instructors and teachers with the opportunity to teach a global and varied student population (Lua et al., 2014). Nevertheless, MOOC initiatives also present many pedagogical challenges, particularly in relation to devising appropriate assessment strategies that are suitable and meaningful to a diverse group of students (Admiraal et al., 2014; Lua et al. 2014). According to Sandeen (2013), assessment needs to be a key feature of the MOOC’s design from its inception. Sandeen also states that currently one of the most exciting developments in MOOC is the “high level of experimentation and rapid prototyping of technology-based assessment that is occurring” (2013, p.2)

The aim of this project is to review relevant literature related to the emerging trends in MOOC assessment and their application in supporting student learning. While assessment is often equated with tests, exams and evaluations, according to Erwin (1991) cited in Swan et al., (2006, p.1), the term ‘assessment’ may be used more broadly. He defines assessment as: “a systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students. More specifically, assessment is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analysing, interpreting, and using information to increase students' learning and development”.  The importance of assessment as an educational experience cannot be overestimated and there is general consensus that assessment shapes learning (Garrison, 2011).

A scoping exercise will be undertaken to elicit the breadth and depth of the different MOOC assessment strategies currently under use.Most MOOC’s will incorporate and offer some form of assessment. They tend to utilise strategies such as automated grading tools, which include multiple choice or true/false questions; these questions are intended to gauge the students’ knowledge in relation to course content and the scores are given to students as formative feedback (Suen, 2014). There is also a large body of literature Admiraal et al., (2015); Balfour (2013); Ruggiero & Harbour (2013); Suen (2014) which states that some form of peer review e.g. calibrated peer review, is also an effective method of assessment as it enables students to hone their writing skills through evaluating other students’ work. Chew (2016) purports that peer assessment practices enhances assessment and feedback experience of international students.

A formal evaluation of the various assessment strategies will be undertaken to assess their capabilities and limitations, and then the findings will be presented to the local MOOC design team so that the relevant assessment and feedback strategy can be incorporated into the new study Skills MOOC that is currently being developed in the Healthcare Science department where the author works. The project will be presented in a multimedia format and the findings from the literature review will be discussed at length at the H818 conference. 



Admiraal, W., Huisman, B.,  Van de Ven, M. (2014). ‘Self- and peer assessment in massive open online courses’, International Journal of Higher Education, vol. 3, no. 3, [on line]. Available at (last accessed 22 November 2016)

Balfour, S. (2013) ‘Assessing writing in MOOCs: automated essay scoring and calibrated peer review’, Research & Practice in Assessment, vol.8, pp. 40-48.

Chew, E., Snee, H., Price, T. (2016) ‘Enhancing international postgraduates’ learning experience with online peer assessment and feedback innovation’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol.53, no. 3, pp. 247-259.

Garrison, D, (2011) E-learning in the 21st century a framework for research and practice, London, Routledge.

Luo, H., Robinson, A. C., & Park, J. Y. (2014). ‘Peer grading in a MOOC: reliability, validity, and perceived effects’, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, vol.18, no.2, pp 1-14 [on line]. Available at (last accessed 22 November 2016) 

Ruggiero, D., Harbour, J. (2013) ‘Using writing assignments with calibrated peerreview to increase engagement and improve learning in an undergraduate environmentalscience’, Course International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 7: no. 2, pp. 1-15.

Sandeen, C. (2013). ‘Assessment’s place in the new MOOC world’, Research& Practice in Assessment, vol.8, pp 1-5. [on line]Available at (last accessed 2 December 2016)

Suen, H. (2014) ‘Peer assessment for massive open online coursers (MOOCs)’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 15, no. 3, pp, 312-327.

Swan, K., Starr J., Hiltz, R. (2006) ‘Assessment and collaboration in online learning’ Journal of Asynchronous Learning.

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