Exams and Alternate Assessments

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If you rely on in-person invigilated mid-terms and exams as your primary assessment tool, moving to online formats can seem a challenging prospect. The good news is that there are a wide range of both formative and summative assessments to support and assess student achievement throughout your course.

Getting Started

  • When choosing an assessment, consider the learning outcomes. What are you aiming to measure? Ideally, the assessments you choose will match the formative teaching strategies you plan and help students successfully achieve the outcomes.
  • One of the most common concerns when assessing in non-invigilated contexts is maintaining the integrity of the assessment process. It is much easier for students to collaborate with each other or consult alternate sources when online. When developing online assessments, it is important to factor this into the design. For further strategies to foster Academic Integrity, please visit: Fostering Academic Integrity

Choosing an Assessment

Traditional exams can be conducted in a variety of different ways. In addition, final projects and other types of assessments are often better suited for determining whether students have met the required learning outcomes. The table below identifies some key types of outcomes and assessment strategies that align with them.

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 at a time when many have been re-located and may not have access to high-quality internet connections and other resources
  • 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/
Scavenger Hunts Capitalize on the instinct to search the internet for answers by building it into an assignment requiring students to locate research-based answers to specific questions
  • As much information available on the internet is itself plagiarized, students may be tempted by the oft-repeated answers in superficial sources
  • Design questions that will help students distinguish quality of sources.
  • Create clear criteria for evaluating the sources they identify and synthesize (eg. peer-reviewed, relevant, discipline-specific, etc.)
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
Learning Portfolio Students compile a series of artifacts with reflections that describe their learning throughout the course
  • Learning portfolios encourage students to synthesize what they have learned in the course and reflect on how it applies in other contexts.
  • Provide clear prompts to guide student reflection and types of elements to gather
  • Portfolios can be created in e-formats or as documents that can be submitted as assignments
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

What Tools Do I Use?

A number of options are available for online assessment. The simplest options are to use the tools available in the LMS, which allow for a range of assessment options.

Assignment Tool

Test Tool

  • The Test tool supports 17 different question types, most of them with automated marking. Information on best practices setting up the tests tool is available
  • To learn how to set up a test, please see More on tests and assessments
  • Caution: Do not enable the Force Complete setting. For more information about best practices and known issues for instructors, please visit our Test Best Practices and Troubleshooting Wiki page.

Other Considerations

  • Be transparent with students about the purposes of the assignment, how it connects to the course material and learning outcomes, what the specific expectations are, and how it will be evaluated.
  • Aim to keep it as simple as possible, focused on the key skills that the assessment is designed to measure. 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.
  • If an assessment does require additional 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.

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