Online assessment in higher education: The influence of pedagogy on the construction of students' epistemologies

Document Type

Journal Article


Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Inc.


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


School of Education




Northcote, M. (2003). Online assessment in higher education: the influence of pedagogy on the construction of students’ epistemologies’. Issues in Educational Research, 13(1), 66-84. Available here


Educators and courseware designers in the higher education sector are currently being challenged by the recent advances in online learning technologies. This paper considers the place of assessment in the teaching and learning context of the modern university, with a particular focus on how the adoption and design of online assessment reflects teachers' pedagogies. The impact on student learning is also considered, especially as the type of assessment task assigned to students can have such an influence on their learning outcomes and developing epistemologies. The recent trend whereby surface assessment tasks have seemingly dominated assessment choices of curriculum designers in online education is considered. Reasons for this pattern are investigated by reflecting on the role of assessment in both traditionally delivered university courses and courses that incorporate the new computer and online technology. To redress the perceived current overuse of assessment tools that tend to focus on objectivist knowledge and surface learning, the paper concludes with a recommendation to develop a more balanced approach to student assessment in online environments, one that evaluates a wider range of student learning outcomes and encourages teachers to consider their own epistemologies when designing online assessment tasks. This paper may interest those who are involved in the design and delivery of university courses with online components. It provides insights for educators who are concerned about the pedagogical and epistemological implications of various assessment formats.

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