Digital Learning Strategy: How do I design effective online assessment activities in my subject?

Online assessment is often viewed as limited in capacity and inauthentic in outcomes. Poorly designed online assessment especially can encourage students to focus on lower level cognitive skills. But the emergence of innovative new digital technologies also presents a range of exciting possibilities for designing online assessment activities that promote higher level cognitive skills.

This module is designed to guide you through some pedagogical approaches and practical considerations for designing effective – meaningful, engaging and authentic – online assessment activities for your students, and for efficiently providing useful formative feedback to further enhance their learning opportunities.

By the end of this module you will:

  • Be able to identify current pedagogical approaches to online assessment and feedback activities, and implement these in your subject;
  • Be able to draw on best-practice examples, models and practical strategies to inform the design of your own online assessment and feedback activities; and
  • Be able to identify the best tools and technologies to realize these activities.


In the Assessing Learning in Australian Universities project, the Centre for the Study of Higher Education identified need to "captur[e] the potential of online assessment" as a major issue for assessment in higher education. Designing effective online assessment can be challenging, but it provides a good opportunity to reflect on what it is you are trying to achieve in assessing your students. It is rarely a matter of transposing existing assessment items to some online system or tool. "Making decisions about whether, when or how to use online assessment in your teaching requires a clear focus on the nature and purposes of assessment and on the basic principles of assessment design" (Benson and Brack 2010, 107). Online assessment can provide flexibility in the time, location and variety of assessment tasks being asked of students, can challenge students to learn new skills and ways of learning, and can help to provide students with timely and formative feedback to support and enhance learning opportunities – so long as the constructive alignment of intended learning outcomes, activities and assessment is maintained, and continues to provide timely feedback to support and enhance learning opportunities.

Effective online assessment and feedback checklist

  • How will the online assessment enhance the learning experience for my students?
  • Does the online assessment assess anything that cannot be assessed as well (or more effectively) in a traditional format?
  • Is student learning related to subject content knowledge and skills being assessed rather than (or in addition to) ICT skills?
  • Are mechanisms to enable rapid and useful feedback to students included?
  • Will the students be able to learn from this feedback to further enhance their learning opportunities?

[Adapted from:]

Step 1: Think about the types of assessment activities that support your intended learning outcomes

"The best and most successful forms of assessment occur when the learning activities and assessment tasks merge, providing the motivation for students to complete the activities"(Oliver and Herrington 2001).

Assignments and assessment

Assessments throughout the subject should include formative and summative tasks. To encourage higher order learning, Biggs recommends a strategy that cuts down on massive single modes of assessment such as the final exam and assess more often with more variety in assessment (Biggs, 2011, p 20). Long breaks between assessments or less, larger assessment pieces can result in a drop in motivation (Rust, 2001, p 5). Regular assessment tasks can assist students to pace their learning while providing an opportunity for formative feedback. Shorter assessment tasks can be useful for developing students' critical and analytical skills and may require less marking time.

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activities Considerations Tools
Essays, papers, reports, case studies, and other text-based activities

Students can write and submit reports, papers, essays or case studies online – collaboratively or individually

Students could author or co-author an interactive eBook or iBook

Students might work individually or collaboratively on a wiki to write a report or case study

Shorter writing tasks can demonstrate critical understanding and reduce marking burden. Try a briefing paper annoted bibliography, three minute essay, book review or article.
Moodle Assignment (Online Text)
Moodle OU Wiki
Moodle Forum
Turntin (Text Submission)
Concept Maps and Venn Diagrams Concept Maps and Venn diagrams are concise expressions of knowledge and relationships enabling teachers to quickly assess students' grasp of key concepts. Creatly*
Venn Diagram Maker*
Posters and Presentations Posters provide and alternative for developing communication skills and provide and opportunity of peer learning. In large class assessment the poster offers a quick synthesis of understanding. Canva*
Curated Web Content Content curation allows student to synthesise and evaluate web content, developing crucial information literacy skills. Students can work individually or in collaborative knowledge construction activities. Storify*

Open Resources



Encouraging students to assess their own performance can teach them to reflect objectively and evaluate their own development, identify gaps in their understanding and capabilities, and begin to learn independently, prompting them to be "aware of and more responsible for their own learning processes" (UNSW).

"Student self-assessment is a key element in authentic assessment and in self-regulated learning… Self-assessment promotes direct involvement in learning and the integration of cognitive abilities with motivation and attitude toward learning… Students who are self-regulated learners collaborate with other students in exchanging ideas, eliciting assistance when needed, and providing support to their peers… they see the connection between their efforts and learning success" (O'Malley and Pierce 1996).

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activities Considerations Tools
Quizzes Quizzes and MCQ's offer students the ability to self assess their understanding of an activity, reading or multimedia content and automated provide feedback. Moodle Quiz
Moodle Lesson
Eportfolios Folios can be useful in documenting student learning. Combined with reflection, folios can assist students to develop their ability to self-assess. Students may select their best work for final assessment reducing the amount of assessment for teaching staff. PebblePad

Open Resources


Peer review

Peer assessment engages students in the learning process while they assess the work of other students in their subject.  Peer assessment is usually combined with self assessment and often undertaken within group assessment, where students assess the contribution of group members.   Peer assessment can be either formative or summative.  Peer assessment should be accompanied with clear direction criteria by which student assess each other's work.

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activity Considerations Tools
Peer created and reviewed questions Students explain their understanding of the subject through creation and, discussion and rating of related assessment questions.  Peerwise*
Moodle Wiki
Peer Reviewed Project Students provide anonymous qualitative and quantitative feedback to their peers on draft writing tasks.

Moodle Workshop
Moodle Forum
Moodle Database

Open Resources


Group assessment

Group assessment may reduce marking burden in large enrolment subjects. Students however, may perceive issues with group assessment, generally associated with fairness in marking. Possible strategies for addressing this include peer assessment of contributions, divided group mark, and individual contracts where students have a dedicated role and responsibility within the group. Group assessment can get better buy in from students where students are given input into the assessment criteria.

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activity Considerations Tools
Group Assignments Students work in groups on projects in wikis, on video collaboration and presentation sites. Moodle OU Wiki
Moodle Assignment
YouTube* / Vimeo*
We Video*
Office Mix
Group Project Management Groups manage their groupwork and files through project management applications. Freedcamp*
Group Curation Students work in groups in collaborative knowledge construction activities. Moodle Glossary
Group meetings Students organise synchronous or asynchronous meetings to discuss project progress and requirements.Collaborate
Google Hangouts*
Moodle Forum

Open Resources

Assessment through reflection

The importance of reflection in higher education is widely recognized: "Reflection is indicative of deep learning, and where teaching and learning activities such as reflection are missing… only surface learning can result" (Biggs 2011). Assessment through reflection provide be a particularly formative and meaningful learning experience.

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activity Considerations Tools
Reflection Blogs and reflective journals can encourage students to regularly assess their understanding and engage in the process of making judgments. Like folios of eportfolios students may regularly keep a journal or blog and select best pieces for assessment Moodle OU Wiki
Moodle Assignment
Moodle Forum (Blog mode with ratings)

Open Resources


Feedback and interactive formative assessment

A strategic approach to feedback can reduce the amount of feedback given to students, while ensuring the maximum learning from the feedback. Brown and Knight recommend giving feedback to students early in the assessment process (Brown & Knight, 1994). Ideally, incorporate an early low stakes assessment task within the first four weeks of semester to ensure early feedback for students to help them identify issues and improve their learning. Interactive formative assessment provides feedback to students and feedback from students to the teacher. It is especially useful in teaching of large student cohorts as a way of gauging theoretical or conceptual understanding and fostering independent learning.

Decide which tools will support your activities

Activity Considerations Tools
Online Lesson or Module Create an online lesson or module that gives students a change to assess their learning as they progress. Some platforms allow for the development of different navigational paths for students based on their responses to questions. Moodle Lesson
Moodle Quiz
Adobe Captivate
Articulate Storyline
Interactive Lectures and Tutorials Using polling, discussion or learning analytics to focus and customise your lecture or tutorial content, address common misconceptions, or create interactivity within lecture. Moodle Feedback
Moodle Discussion
Moodle Reports
Poll Everywhere*

Audio feedback provides engaging and personal feedback for students and can decrease time spent giving feedback to students. 

Rubrics provide a very useful tool to inform and provide clear criteria in assessment for both the student and the marker. 

Online quizzes can provide continuous feedback to students.
Moodle Quiz
Moodle Gradebook

Open Resources


Step 2: Think about what these activities might be, and how they fit together into an overall assessment strategy

Ideally each assessment task should represent a component of an overarching assessment strategy.  Some things to think about when designing an assessment strategy include:

  • the timeliness of each assessment task within the subject;
  • the constructive relationship between each assessment task;
  • the feedback you want to provide to students on each task and the time frame in which this can be achieved;
  • the alignment of the assessment strategy with the intended learning outcomes.

For each assessment task, consider:

  • the alignment of the task with the intended learning outcomes;
  • the mode and method of assessment (e.g. formative/summative, self-directed/submitted, individual/group, high/low stakes);
  • the relationship between the preceding task and the following task, where relevant;
  • whether you will be assessing the process, the product, or both; and
  • the extent to which you are able to invest time up front to reduce marking time.


R. Benson and C. Brack. (2010.) Online Learning and Assessment in Higher Education: A Planning Guide. Elsevier Science. Esp. Chapter 4: "Online Assessment."

Biggs, J. (2011). Assessing learning Quality: II Practice, Teaching for Quality Learning at University 4th Ed.

Brown, S., & Knight, P. (1994). Assessing learners in higher education. London: Kogan Page Ltd.

Boud, D. (2007). Avoiding the traps: seeking good practice in the use of self assessment and reflection in professional courses, Social Work Education: the International Journal, 18 (2), pp. 121-132.

N. Falchikov and D. Boud. (1989.) "Student Self-Analysis in Higher Education: A Meta-Analysis." Review of Educational Research, 59(4): 395-430.Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE). Assessing Learning in Australian Universities Project. University of Melbourne.

Please note: Applications indicated by * are web applications that may involve a cost or licensing and the university may not be able to provide technical support in the use of these applications. Many however are simple to use and provide good online support and resources. Where you are considering using these applications you should consider:

  • What additional functionality does this application provide to University applications?
  • What alternative will be provided/developed?
  • What are the implications for accessibility?
  • Where are your students going to get technical support

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