To describe recommended practices for designing and administering assessments in courses with remote or flexible delivery.
Assessments generally serve a few major purposes in teaching and learning–to provide both students and faculty with feedback on whether learning goals are being met and accountability. They are typically categorized as either formative or summative. Formative assessments are low-stakes and informal, and administered while learning is still occurring. Summative assessments are high-stakes and performed after learning occurs typically for a grade. Within the literature, it is widely established that formative assessments are more impactful for student learning than summative assessments (Black & Wiliam,1998; Black et al., 2004). Regardless of type, all assessments designed for a course should align with learning outcomes and learning activities, following the basic principles of backward design. Students’ specific accommodations should also always be taken into account in the design and administration. The Office of Accessibility Services is a campus resource that can be contacted with any questions regarding student accommodations for assessments.
For instructors accustomed to teaching face-to-face courses, teaching in online and hybrid-flexible environments can require reimagining how formative and summative assessments are performed. However, following a few key principles, and weighing various options, online assessments can be accurate and reliable measures of student learning. Ultimately, instructors must consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type of assessment to make the best choices for their course.
As described previously not only have formative assessments been shown to be more effective in helping students learn, they are also less vulnerable to academic integrity issues compared to high-stakes assessments. Here are several examples of formative assessments shared during a Course Design Institute by instructors preparing to teach face-to-face, fully online, remote or hybrid-flexible courses. These include items such as ungraded Moodle quizzes, polling through platforms like PollEverywhere, and peer feedback on drafts. If an instructor prefers to implement traditional, graded assessments, they can consider administering several smaller quizzes, and a traditional, comprehensive high-stakes test if there is a pedagogical rationale. This will allow the students will complete continuous assessments to support their learning of course material.
Authentic assessments encourage deeper more meaningful learning experiences for students. They often have unique elements that allow students to produce original work, and carry out tasks that have real-world applications. Examples include podcasts, student portfolios, opt-Eds, letters to the editor, blogs, wikis, brochures, infographics, and presentations to stakeholders. Because of their originality authentic assessments are also less vulnerable to academic integrity issues. Further they typically can be submitted or viewed digitally. The Authentic Assessment Toolbox has several additional examples. Such assessments can be graded using analytic or holistic rubrics.
These work better for courses with learning objectives that operate at levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy higher than “remembering” or recalling information (Bengtsson, 2019). A major advantage of take-home assessments is that they can reduce student anxiety over testing. They can also be more accessible to students with accommodations, and assess higher-order thinking skills. Instructors should encourage students to study for the take-home exam as a typical exam so that they fully prepare. A disadvantage is that there can be concerns around unethical behavior in completing take-home exams. A few recommendations are included below for designing take-home exams as remedies for such concerns (p. 9).
Oral assessments can provide a good sense of how much students have learned. A caveat is the time investment for conducting oral exams, however grading can be finished as soon as the last student completes their oral exam if the process is carefully designed.
The advantages of these assessments is that because they are typically traditional in format they may feel similar to an on-ground exam. The disadvantages are that they can sometimes cause students to have more anxiety, and students and faculty may have some concerns around academic integrity.
These assessments require more effort for instructors and students to perform in an online setting. Students should be encouraged to contact the Help Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org if they don’t have access to a laptop with a webcam or reliable internet. A few minutes should be devoted prior to class to allow students to practice taking the exam, review procedures, and troubleshoot issues. Instructors should be aware that students may choose to turn off their webcams and may feel using them is an invasion of their privacy. There have been a number of reported concerns on this issue.
Bengtsson, L. (2019). Take-home exams in higher education: A systematic review. Education Sciences, 9, 267.
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 8–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/003172170408600105