It is important to remember that it is not always necessary to create all new assessments for an online course. Many assessment techniques and teaching strategies work well in any environment, as long as they are implemented thoughtfully. To modify or create assessment alternatives online, here are some helpful suggestions and resources.
Decide which assessments are essential to students achieving your learning outcomes
- What knowledge and skills still need to be assessed
- Think about reallocating the weighting of assessments completed to date
- Consider combining or reducing remaining assessments
- Revise the assessment to make it easier on your students as well as grading.
- Recognize how much you and your students are able to accomplish at this time.
ASSESSMENTS AND ALTERNATIVES
- A take-home exam distributed and submitted via Avenue’s Assignments Tool. Exam questions can be distributed electronically, answers are attempted without help from others.
- More advice: http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/Handouts/TakeHomeEssayExams.pdf
- Build a Question Library to populate and administer a Quiz in Avenue.
- If your assessment includes equations and formulas, have students create a video of themselves working through a problem or question set to demonstrate their understanding of knowledge and process.
Do you need to move your exam online? (click here to open this interactive graphic from Giulia Forsythe at Brock University)
You may wish to offer your exam online in Avenue to Learn. There are several features in Avenue to Learn that you may want to use, such as:
- Present exam questions one-by-one
- Presenting the exam questions in random order
- Putting time constraints around the exam
- For multiple choice questions, presenting the answer options in random order
- Creating a bank of questions and having the system randomly select a particular number of questions from your question bank
- Prevent students from accessing other webpages or email applications (although this doesn’t prevent them from using other devices to access these things)
- Instructor Considerations for Online Testing (Developed by Rosa da Silva, Biology)
We are happy to share two faculty created resources with step-by-step instructions to help you create Avenue quizzes that can be used as final exams.
- Creating quizzes in Avenue to Learn (Developed by Christine Cluney, Anthropology)
- Creating tests in Avenue to Learn (Developed by Rosa da Silva, Biology)
Many thanks to Rosa and Christine for sharing these.
- Students create PowerPoint slides with speaking notes and post on Avenue to Learn
- Students present in real-time using Microsoft Teams or WebEx Meetings
- Students record presentations using MacVideo and post on Avenue to Learn
- Consider use of Flipgrid (select Sign-up with Microsoft and use your MacID) – students can upload videos directly from their mobile devices or computers. All videos come with transcriptions. Peers can “like” (used to approve, vote, endorse), review each other’s work, or comment. Learn more about using Flipgrid. Find more resources about using Flipgrid here.
- Upload a PDF or link to a Word document in Avenue to Learn and have students collaborate and submit using Avenue’s Assignments Tool
- Create a Discussion Forum prompt for students using Avenue’s Discussions Tool
- Host a WebEx Meeting synchronous session and create Breakout Rooms
- Watch an online lecture, review current news event or read a textbook chapter and write a brief 250-word paper. Submit using Avenue to Learn
- Resource: https://wiki.mcmaster.ca/avenue/assessment_-_assignments
- A written assignment for students to write down their reflections, help identify critical learning events that have happened, synthesis and contextualize their educational experiences. If the class is experiential in nature (e.g., student teaching, performance), ask the students to write a reflective paper/critique of their experience. The key here is to make them tie this to theory or themes in the course so that it doesn’t become an effusion of personal feeling. Also see “The Role of Reflection” with prompts and reflection frameworks.
Resource: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/resources/reflection-framework-and-prompts and https://pebblepad.mcmaster.ca/
- Fact Sheet Alternative: Students create a one-page summary of key concepts, facts or themes.
Resource: See Professor Barbara Abrams’ Disease Fact Sheet Assignment. (via https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/improve/alternatives-traditional-testing)
- Instead, you can decide to have a live chat using WebEx Meetings, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
(adapted from How Low Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All)
- When we try to replicate classroom experiences in an online environment, it’s easy to think of the latest learning technologies as our go-to tools. But there are two key factors that make this approach problematic:
- Bandwidth: high-bandwidth technologies work great for students who have newer computers, fast and reliable internet access at home, and unlimited data plans on their phones. For other students, courses that require frequent use of high-bandwidth technologies can limit their ability to fully participate in course activities, which can jeopardize their success in the course
- Immediacy: the second factor, immediacy, refers to how quickly we expect our students to respond when interacting with us and with each other. Typically, we think of immediacy as a good thing. But one of the biggest advantages of online learning is that it can provide you and your students with more flexibility. When we require our students to be online at exactly the same time or submit assessments in a given time period, we sacrifice one of the key benefits of online learning, and that can make an online course feel like more of a burden than it has to be.
- Low-tech/low-bandwidth options include emails, discussion boards, and readings with text and images. Online instructors have been using these three tools for decades. And while that might make them sound boring, you can create some fantastic instructional experiences with just these three tools.
- Before assigning assessments that require the use of technology, check in with you students to see if they have the tools to complete the work [consider using this Google Form template to check in with your students (click here to make a copy of the form)].
- For students with a poor or intermittent Internet connection or limited bandwidth, consider:
- Structuring communications like a mailing list/list-serv as an alternative to discussion threads by using “reply all”, e.g., send out a topic or question to the class list of addresses, let students ‘reply-all’ and respond to each other by repeating this process. This approach reduces any need for specific technology, use of additional tools, and requirements for real-time communication (see FAQ: How do I easily email my class list through Outlook rather than Avenue’s internal mail?)
- Having students submit written transcripts instead of video or audio-recorded presentations
- Breaking synchronous timed exams into multiple long-form questions at different days & times
- Asking students to draw, equations, infographics or 3D models with pen/paper rather than design digital versions and submit an image and text response about their designs
- Allowing assignments to be submitted to you via email
Many instructors are thinking of shifting previously scheduled face-to-face exams to take-home exams. While this does not necessarily change much for instructors and students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where essays and long answers are common, some instructors may be concerned about determining appropriate levels of difficulty and mitigating academic misconduct. Here are some considerations for preparing, administering, and evaluating take-home exams:
Creating Take-Home Exam Questions
- As with any assignment, it is important to establish for yourself and your students what the purpose of the assessment is and how it connects to course learning outcomes. What knowledge and skills are you asking students to demonstrate, and why?
- Asking clear and straightforward questions enables students to write precise answers. Requiring that students refer to particular themes, concepts, or passages covered in class can help them focus on what they have learned while also reducing possible academic misconduct. For more information on asking good test questions, visit Cornell’s resource on Asking Good Test Questions: https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/assessment-evaluation/asking-good-test-questions.
- Consider asking students to reflect on how particular texts or concepts relate to material from other courses or their wider lives. This will allow them to apply knowledge beyond your individual course and may be particularly valuable during periods of academic disruption such as the one we are in now.
- If you are concerned about academic misconduct, consider using a search engine to explore what comes up when you search for specific keywords. This can give you a sense of how you can frame your questions in a way that will elicit original answers.
- For more information on preparing effective exams, see https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/assesslearning/creatingexams.html.
Determining and Communicating Assessment Criteria
- Again, it is important to establish for yourself and your students what the purpose of the assessment is and how it connects to course learning outcomes. The answers to these questions may change when transitioning to a take-home exam, but it is important to be clear either way.
- Consider the differences between a research essay and a traditional face-to-face exam. The former typically takes much more time to complete than the latter in part because it involves identifying, accessing, consulting, and citing external sources. The latter, in contrast, generally requires students to answer questions based only on what they already know. When preparing a take-home exam, it is important to be explicit about what you want your students to accomplish and with what resources.
- It is also important that you are transparent ahead of time about how students will be graded. if you would not normally grade their grammar or syntax in a regular exam, for example, does it make sense to grade it in a take-home exam?
Administering Take-Home Exams
- It is sound practice to give students a generous amount of time to complete the exam. This flexibility enables them to determine when and where they will be able to effectively demonstrate their knowledge and reduces the risk of technological problems. Depending on the nature of the exam, you may wish to give them up to 24 hours to several
- You may wish to distribute a list of questions in advance and then give students a limited number from which to choose for the exam itself. This allows students to thoughtfully prepare while still ensuring that they have some flexibility to choose which questions they want to answer.
- You can ask students to complete an exam in a document they upload to Avenue, or you can create a multi-part exam (e.g., short answers, multiple choice, essay questions) within Avenue itself. For information on how to do this, please see https://wiki.mcmaster.ca/avenue/assessment_-_quizzes.
Use the same course weighting articulated in your syllabi, but have students produce an equivalent piece of work. Students can submit any digital content (files), such as word-processed documents, spreadsheets, images, diagrams, or audio and video clips, which can be collected and graded by the instructor. Avenue to Learn Assignments can be configured to include specific due dates and availability.
Using online discussion boards is a great way to encourage class participation and allow students to express themselves in a different way. Below are some considerations for creating boards and facilitating discussions, and some guidelines for use that you may wish to share with or adapt for your students.
Creating Discussion Boards
- For information on the technical aspects of setting up a discussion board, please see the Avenue wiki at https://wiki.mcmaster.ca/avenue/discussions.
- Consider the purpose of a discussion board. Is it to replace in-class participation? A place to ask questions or engage in wide-ranging conversation? Are students required to post or is participation supplemental? Will you assess participation, and if so, how?
- Consider the range of Avenue permissions you might grant to students. It is generally not advisable to allow anonymous posts (although Avenue does allow for this feature), but you may wish to consider whether a moderator needs to approve each post and whether users can start threads of their own.
- Some students may not want their legal name to be displayed to their peers. While Avenue does not allow students to change their display name, students can add a preferred name through Mosaic by going to Student Centre > Names. This will trigger a change in Avenue. It is helpful to tell students about this feature when introducing the discussion boards in order to mitigate privacy concerns.
- Share your thoughts about how you expect students to use discussion boards and how their participation contributes to their ability to meet course outcomes. Communicating the value of this type of participation helps students understand how it fits into the broader course context.
- Be explicit about your expectations about how students use language. People communicate virtually differently than they do in face-to-face interactions and may be accustomed to using slang or less formal linguistic constructions. You may have different expectations for a course devoted to grammar, for example, than a creative writing course.
- To create a sense of community, consider posting an introductory thread so people can get to know each other a bit more. You might provide a few prompts that ask people (including the instructional team) to share something non-academic about themselves, such as their favourite book or movie. You can also suggest (but should not require) that everyone share a photo of themselves.
- As in any learning environment, it is always helpful to establish from the outset that disrespectful or prejudicial comments are not appropriate and will be removed. If you do remove content, it is ideal to also follow up with the student who posted it to discuss the situation.
- Your active participation in discussions enhances instructor presence and encourages student participation. You do not need to respond to every post, but you might consider aiming to engage with each student a certain number of times each term or to make sure you post at least once on each thread.
- See this resource from the Association for Psychological Science: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/five-tips-for-improving-online-discussion-boards.
- Take a look at this article from DiPasquale & Hunter to learn about fostering critical thinking in online discussions: Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Online Discussions: A Systematic Review
Guidelines for Students
- If you wouldn’t say something while standing in front of someone, it probably makes sense not to say it online either.
- It can be hard to determine tone online. What you may mean as a joke or sarcasm might be interpreted as meanspirited. This doesn’t mean you can’t use humour, but try to consider how others might feel if they don’t think it’s funny.
- You may disagree with or not understand content in another person’s post. That’s normal! When responding, it’s best to try to engage with the idea rather than the person. For example, instead of saying “what you wrote doesn’t make sense,” you could say “that idea is confusing to me” or “I’m having trouble understanding what you wrote.”
- Before asking a question, consider reading through other posts to see if another person has asked or answered the same query.
- When responding to another post, it can be helpful to quote some or all of the text so it is clear what you are referring to.
- For additional tips, see this resource from George Mason University: https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/guides/guidelines-for-posting-to-discussion-boards.