As online and blended approaches to higher education instruction and learning have proliferated, interest in online assessment has also increased. Assessment has been always a critical issue in educational innovation initiatives such as the move from traditional classroom instruction to online learning environments. The assessment of students shapes not only what they learn, but also how they learn, their perceptions of learning, and their motivation for learning.
My research explores how the roles of faculty members and students are changing during the transformation from traditional face-to-face classrooms to online settings. I am especially interested in how assessment in an online learning environment can improve students’ learning. My interest in these topics is broad, spanning a wide range of instructional and learning phenomena as well as methodological issues.
When implementing online assessment, many factors may influence faculty members’ practices. These factors include viewing online assessment as invalid because of the lack of face-to-face monitoring; the complex situation of academic dishonesty in online assessment; and the heavy emphasis on the quantity and speed of online feedback as compensation for the lack of physical interaction. However, other factors may also influence online assessment practices. For example, the epistemological beliefs and worldviews of faculty members may shape the way they teach and assess. Their comfort level and usage of technologies may also influence their online assessment practices. The nature of the involved discipline can also limit the assessment strategies that can be implemented in a course in the mind of an instructor. In addition, the teaching experiences of the faculty members and their knowledge about teaching can also affect their decisions regarding the online assessment approaches they use. In addition to these factors, many other factors may influence faculty members’ online assessment practices and hence influence students’ learning in the online environment. My investigation of these factors and faculty members’ online assessment practices endeavors to provide extensive and in-depth guidance for future online assessment policies and related faculty support in online teaching.
Another assessment related interest I have is related to electronic portfolios. Since the growth of the Internet and Web technologies in the middle of the 1990s, electronic portfolios have become increasingly popular. Benefits of electronic portfolio assessment are demonstrated both in terms of authentic student evaluation and in students’ ongoing use of technology in their learning and professional growth. However, tensions exist among the various goals that are held by different stake-holders. The goals of using e-portfolio as an assessment tool, as a reflective thinking tool, and as a repository for a prospective employee’s critical documents (resume, academic or artistic creations, biography, etc.) have different implications for the design and development of an electronic portfolio. How can these tensions be resolved? My study on students’ development and use of e-portfolios indicated that adjusting the assessment objectives to make them more authentic and practical for students’ use in job searching may be one of the solutions. Sufficient technology and resource support can be another important factor.
Another project inspired by my teaching experiences was “Digital Story: A Reflective Tool for Curriculum Design.” In this project, I asked my students to implement the Microsoft Photo Story program to develop visual concept maps for their lesson plans. Preservice teachers used digital stories to plan and rehearse their lessons with digital images, video clips, texts, music, and their own narration. Digital Story, therefore, became a tool supporting preservice teachers’ curriculum design process. My course materials including syllabi, course agenda, and teaching handouts can be reviewed at my electronic portfolio: http://ruihu.ceismc.gatech.edu/rui_teach.html.
As a future researcher, I have always believed that my research should contribute to the advance of human society. Research in education is different from other fields such as natural sciences and psychology. On one hand, complicated and evolving phenomena and relationships in many aspects of educational practices urge educational researchers to explore and understand them. In this situation, qualitative methods enable the collection of in-depth data that can lead to a profound understanding. On the other hand, our research results should be able to find out principles and rules that can be generalized and integrated with solutions that can be implemented in many situations. Thus, quantitative data collection methods are also useful. My dissertation research uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data in two phases. In the first phase, I implemented an online survey to reveal statistical relationships among the various factors that may influence faculty members’ online assessment practices. In phase II, the findings from phase I guided me to explore certain phenomena in-depth. I used qualitative data collection methods, including interviews and observations, to understand faculty member’s practices of online assessments in detail, so that underpinning rules and principles can be discovered. The combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods helps to triangulate data and complete my own understanding of my research topic both at the micro level and at the macro level, so the benefits of this study toward society can be maximized.
One of my next research topics will focus on developing an instrument to determine Internet literacy, including the mode of online social network as one of the instrument’s sub-dimensions. My current research employs a sub-scale to measure faculty members’ use of Internet technology. Similar to other current instruments for measuring Internet literacy (attitude toward and usage of the Internet), it primarily focuses on the types of technologies that the participants have used, and their anxiety level related to using the Internet. However, no instrument has been developed to measure the social network dimension in the use of Internet. That is, researchers cannot measure how the participants “fit” into the online social network in terms of their Internet literacy.
In the future, I may also look at how faculty members’ epistemological beliefs influence their students’ epistemic beliefs in the online learning environment and how faculty members’ pedagogical content knowledge can influence their online assessment. Obviously, this is a robust research agenda with great potential for attracting external funding.