The second step in course design is determining how you will know if changes have occurred in your students.

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Why is assessment important?

While all aspects of course design are important, your choice of assessment Influences what your students will primarily focus on.

For example, if you assign videos to be watched, but the students' understanding or knowledge of the videos aren’t assessed, the students will probably skip the task. If your exams only focus on memorizing content and not thinking critically, you will find that students are only memorizing material instead of spending time contemplating the meaning of the subject matter, regardless of whether you attempt to motivate them to think about the subject.

Regardless of what you say, your choice of assessment will tell students what you value in your course. Assessment focuses students on what they need to achieve in order to succeed in the class, and if you want students to achieve the learning outcomes you’ve created, then your assessments need to align with them.

The assessment cycle

Assessment doesn’t occur only at the end of units or courses. In order to adjust teaching and learning, assessment needs to occur throughout the course. The following diagram is an example of how assessment might occur at several levels.

This cycle might occur:

  • At the unit level where a quiz or exam might inform whether additional material needs to be included in the next unit.
  • At the course level where a final exam might indicate which units will need more instructional time the next time the course is taught.
  • During a single lesson when students tell an instructor that they are having difficulty with a topic.

In many of the above instances learning outcomes may not change, but assessment results will instead directly influence further instruction. For example, during a lecture a quick formative assessment such as a poll may make it clear that instruction was unclear and a different type of example may be given to clarify.

Types of assessment

There are several types of assessment to consider in your course which fit within the assessment cycle.


Used to determine student understanding and misconceptions before your course or unit begin in order to determine which topics to focus more or less time on.


Used to determine whether students understood what you just taught, what worked well and what questions they may still have. This is used to inform further instruction.


Used to determine student learning at the end of the learning process.


Used to determine student learning for the course as a whole.


At the beginning of choosing your course assessments you should start by reviewing your course learning outcomes and then matching assessments to them. If an assessment doesn’t map onto an outcome you should ask whether you’re missing a course learning outcome you care about and, if not, whether your assessment is really necessary.

The following chart is helpful in aligning your assessments as you create them and review them at the end to make sure that your assessments remain in alignment. You may find as you go that a course outcome might change as you determine how you’ll be able to assess it or if the scope of the course learning outcome is too large for the amount of time needed for the assessment.

Worksheet for Designing a Course
Course Learning Outcomes Ways of Assessing This Kind of Learning Actual Teaching-Learning Activities Helpful Resources (e.g., people, things)

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Grading Structure

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Immediate Feedback Assessment

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Using ePortfolios

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