Exams and Alternate Assessments During Disruptions

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In-person exams have been cancelled! What do you do?

First - do you need your exam?

If the course learning outcomes have already been met and assessed in your course, you might consider adjusting the weights of the previous assignments. Consider this option if 60% of your assessment plan is complete. Or, if you're worried about disadvantaging some students, consider an optional replacement for the final.

Second - consider what might replace a final exam?

  • Given additional loads on University systems, and considering that many students have relocated to areas where they may have limited internet access, it is recommended that you choose simple and low-tech options wherever possible.
    • If you require an online test, consider breaking it into smaller components and delivering them separately.
    • If you have longer answer and essay questions, consider having students submit them as assignments instead.

The table below will provide some general guidance on choosing alternate assessments.

Choosing Alternate Assessments

A number of options are available to shift from in-person exams and assignments to online formats. Traditionally proctored exams can be offered in online or take-home formats. The table below gives some additional possibilities that can address similar learning outcomes. Key when substituting assignments is to ensure that the new assignment is equivalent in terms of the expectations and criteria for grading.


Some general tips when altering an assessment:

  • When choosing an alternate assessment, consider the objectives of the original assignment. What was it designed to measure?
  • Be transparent about the purposes of the altered assignment, how it connects to the original plan, what the specific expectations are, and how it will be evaluated.
  • If changing an assessment to one that requires a different set of soft skills, consider providing students with some choice in the format. For example, if the original assignment was a presentation, consider offering students the option of a video, podcast, or slide show.
  • Aim to keep it as simple as possible, using low-tech and text-based solutions where possible. When using technology, plan a back-up delivery mode, to ensure that technical problems do not stand in the way of student completion of assignments.


Foundational Knowledge
Assignment Description Challenges Mitigating Challenges
Online Exam Students respond to a range of questions (from multiple choice and short answer to essay questions) in an online environment, typically during a limited timeframe
  • Students ability to complete will be dependent on technology with little advance warning and at a time when increased load on-campus systems will increase odds of technical problems
  • Students may consult their texts or collaborate with peers before answering
  • There is no way to verify that the student is the one submitting the work
  • Consider alternate forms of submission for the quiz – or have a back-up plan in case technology fails.
  • Create a large pool of questions and randomize them in delivery so that each student has a slightly different test
  • Ensure that the time allocated is sufficiently restricted to discourage outside research
  • Online proctoring is a possibility but comes with significant costs and potential technical challenges – not recommended in almost all cases
Glossary Students are required to identify key concepts from the course and define them
  • If the course text already contains a complete glossary, it might be too easy to copy
  • Have students submit through SafeAssign to help detect copied text, remembering that percentages detected will be higher than usual because of repeated use of core vocabulary
  • Emphasize that the assignment isn’t just about defining as many terms as possible, but also identifying those that are central and explaining their importance
Student Generated Exams Students submit questions that they think would be appropriate for a final exam, along with a rationale as to why they think the concept is central and important
  • Exam questions are widely available, and so students may attempt to find the questions, rather than generate them.
  • Students will also need guidance as to what level of a question to create and be clear on expectations
  • Having students submit a rationale and engage in discussion as to which are the most important concepts and why will help ensure that they are submitting their original work.
  • Explain to students that learning how to teach material will deepen their understanding of it, and help them in future courses
  • A free tool called PeerWise can help facilitate this process https://peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz/
Learning Portfolio Students compile a series of artifacts with reflections that describe their learning throughout the course
  • The value of the exercise will be partly dependent on what students have done in the course already, as this might limit what they have available
  • Provide clear prompts to guide student reflection and types of elements to gather
Critical Thinking
Assignment Description Challenges Mitigating Challenges
Problem Sets Students are provided with specific problems or cases (whichever is most appropriate) and required to solve them
  • Solutions to common and low-level problems may be widely available on the internet
  • Students may work together before submitting their assignment
  • Create problem sets where collaborative discussions would be beneficial to the solution and encourage students to work together
Take Home Exam Students complete the exam at home and submit it as they would an assignment Students will have ample opportunity to consult with the literature and each other before submitting
  • Create novel and in-depth questions that require significant analysis
  • Have students submit through SafeAssign to help detect copying
Presentation and Facilitation Skills
Assignment Description Challenges Mitigating Challenges
Video Presentation Students videotape their presentation or create a voice-over powerpoint. They can then submit these files as they would a regular assignment
  • Requires additional technical skills on short notice that may be beyond the original objectives of the assignment
  • Videos should not be streamed through Blackboard as the increased load will slow the service
  • Provide students with a choice of formats (eg podcast, video, slide-show, etc.), so that they can use the tools they are most comfortable with.
  • Link to resources that will help answer their technical questions
  • Choose an outside streaming service such as YouTube or UView if you want to make the videos available for viewing
Facilitate Asynchronous Discussion Students post a thread to the Blackboard discussion board and prompt peers to respond with their ideas Facilitation skills for online discussion are different than those for in person, and so students may struggle getting conversations going
  • Encourage all in the class to participate
  • Ask students to choose their most important contributions to the discussion and those of colleagues. Submit a paper with reflection on those posts and justification for choice as important contributions
Performance Students can be asked to prepare a video or audio recording off site and submit along with reflective commentaries
  • Video recording of many types of performance would require equipment, skills, and often another person that might not be available
  • Videos cannot replicate the authentic live performance
  • Provide students with suggestions and resources that will help provide them with technical direction
  • Remember that large video files cannot be effectively viewed through Blackboard, but should be either submitted as a file to be viewed elsewhere or streamed from another source (e.g., UView, YouTube, Microsoft Stream)
Lab Work
Assignment Description Challenges Mitigating Challenges
Data Interpretation Assignment Consider whether the purpose of the lab could be about data interpretation and analysis, rather than collection and provide students with data sets to work with
  • Will not work for performative outcomes that require knowledge of specific instruments or tools
  • Provide datasets that contain (or mimic) the challenges typically encountered
  • If students can be provided with different datasets, this can reduce the chance to submit collaborative work
Simulations Some labs have open simulations
  • Most simulations would provide opportunities for students to self-test, but would not be suitable for formal assessments
  • Finding simulations that are both relevant and high quality can be challenging
  • Often a cost for high quality
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