Assessing Learning

Plan Your Course | Build Your Course | Engage Students | Assess Students | Ensure Accessibility

New resource to help instructors plan and implement accessible assessments and navigate accommodated testing considerations in the online environment:

In this section:

Assessments are a crucial component of student learning. In offering students feedback and grades, we gauge their understanding of the material at hand and support their development in our courses. As you move to the online environment, review your assessments and consider whether they can be modified for the online environment, particularly those with practical or experiential components. The best practices of assessment design are equally applicable to the creation of your online assignments.

Designing online projects and assignments

Key Concepts:

Designing Alternatives for Graded Assessments
If you are redesigning pre-existing assessments, be creative.

Consider:

  • Modify assessments that required students to go into the community, access library or laboratory resources, or work in in-person groups.
  • Provide clear and concise assignment instructions. Details are important but also consider the value of being concise to ensure students will be able to easily read and follow the instructions.
  • Provide examples or models of assessments, both high- and low-performance, to give students a clear idea of your expectations.

Try this:

  • Browse for ideas regarding assessment alternatives for graded assessments in the online environment.
  • Consult with your liaison librarian for information on library resources students can access to complete an assessment or for assistance with assignment design that will scaffold student skills needed for research.
  • Use video instructions to communicate information related to an assessment.
  • Implement Turnitin service to detect text similarity in final assessments.
  • Build elements of your lab in the online environment.
  • Anticipate the need for accommodation of students with disabilities completing online assessments and be prepared to provide alternatives.

How to:

Feedback and Checks for Understanding
In addition to graded assignments and tests providing feedback and checks for understanding can help both you and your students evaluate their progress and understanding of the online course material.

Consider:

  • Students can assess their own work through reflection and assignment guides.
  • Create activities where students can receive feedback from you as the instructor and from their peers.

Try this:

  • Include short content quizzes (graded or ungraded) to check for understanding after watching a segment of a recorded lecture.
  • Use peer-review assessments to allow students to develop skills in giving and receiving feedback from peers.
  • Use the discussion board to receive student responses and feedback.

How to:

Using Rubrics to Support Students and Faculty
A good practice for alleviating student anxiety – and, simultaneously, easing your evaluation process – is the development of clear rubrics as frameworks outlining the criteria required for successfully completing assessment requirements. Examples of rubrics are provided in the “How To” section below. Rubrics can be effective in communicating your expectations to students and ensure fairness and consistency across all of your grading, especially if you are working with a large team of Teaching Assistants (TAs).

Consider:

  • Quercus provides a simple tool for creating and sharing rubrics with both students and TAs.
  • Share your rubric with your TAs who will be grading and provide an opportunity to develop common understandings for its use. This will enable greater efficiency and consistency for grading and assessment.
  • If you’re working with first-time TAs, they are entitled to paid training that will support their grading practice.

Try this:

  • Build your rubric using the following four steps:
    • Identify your learning outcomes
      • What do you want students to demonstrate by the end of the assignment?
    • Determine your evaluation criteria
      • What are the evaluation criteria for the knowledge and skills you want students to demonstrate on an assessment?
    • Create a rating scale
      • For example, will you use grade levels (A, B, C, D, etc.) or percentages?
    • Provide descriptions for each part of your rubric
      • Can you provide details about what level of proficiency each grade level demonstrates?

How to:

  • Review Association of American Colleges and University’s repository of rubrics examples; these can be modified based on your context. [guide]
  • Visit the Quercus rubrics page for more information on how to create, add, and manage rubrics in your course. [guide]
  • Use non-scoring rubrics in Quercus SpeedGrader. [guide]
  • Learn to manage rubrics once they are in your online course. [guide]

 


Designing online tests and exams

Key Concepts

Reconceptualize in-person tests as online open-book tests**
The access students have to course materials, the internet, and one another while unsupervised at home can present a challenge to academic integrity in traditional exam settings. Given that, it can be helpful to embrace the circumstances and design tests to be open-book, open-web, and/or collaborative, allowing students to access various resources during the test.

Consider:

  • Shift focus from recall-oriented questions (which may be easier to search within a text or online) to application and analysis-oriented questions which do not have an easily searchable answer.
  • Instead of one or two large, high-stakes exams, break assessment into smaller, lower-stakes tests or quizzes.
  • Students will need to be prepared not only for the structure and logistics of an open-book test, but also the purpose and intent of the concept of open-book – in other words, ensure they understand the nature of the questions that will be asked, and that open-book does not inherently mean ‘easy.’
  • Having students collaborate in small groups to complete the test can support better learning, and deter students from attempting to cheat off one another – a systematic review of Collaborative Testing offers benefits and challenges to this approach.

Try this:

  • Connect exam questions closely to the learning outcomes and materials of the course, which will make it more challenging for students to locate pre-fabricated solutions or responses on the internet.
  • Design questions based on real-world or fictitious scenarios, requiring students to draw on the knowledge and skills of the course to work through the problem/case.
    • Cases or scenarios can serve as a trigger for a series of close-ended questions (e.g. multiple choice) and/or open-ended questions (e.g., short answer).
  • Provide relevant quantitative or qualitative data and ask students to interpret it – they can respond to what the data show, the relevance of the data to a problem or scenario, factors that may affect the data, etc.
  • Ensure questions are written clearly in straightforward language to reduce the time students need to make sense of what is being asked of them.
  • Have students submit their draft work/notes/etc. along with their final product (e.g., test or quiz).

How to:

Key Concepts

Designing an online final exam
In general, CTSI does not recommend the use of Quercus online tools alone as a simple replacement for final or other high-stakes exams, as this strategy does not meet the University of Toronto policy requirements for exam-taking conditions. Attempts to replicate a traditional online exam in Quercus may lead to academic integrity breaches related to test-taker identity; access to non-approved resources and aids; and collaboration among peers; alternative final assessment approaches are recommended whenever possible. The following guidance will help you consider the potential challenges for students in order to help you determine whether a final exam is necessary, and if so, to provide guidance for configuring and administering the test to best support academic integrity.

Consider:

  • Given issues related to accessibility and equity can be exacerbated in a time-constrained, ‘closed-book’ or ‘locked down’ online exam, the following elements should factor into your decision-making about developing a high-stakes online final exam:
    • Technical requirements – will your students have access to a reliable internet connection and appropriate technical set-up (hardware and software)?
    • Academic accommodations – are you able to account for any individualized academic accommodation plans for relevant students in your course?
    • Personal circumstances – are students able to set aside family and other responsibilities for the required timeframe? Have you considered the time-zone your students are working from?
    • Consider online proctoring only for unique situations or needs given the additional logistical challenges and potential equity issues related to accessing the needed technology.
  • Use test configuration options to deter academic integrity infractions:
    • Randomize questions
    • Build a test bank and schedule multiple versions of the test so students do not answer all the same questions (support considerations of equity by ensuring each version is equally challenging)
    • Set a time limit per question (e.g., 2 mins per multiple choice question)

Try this:

How to:

 

** Concepts and strategies in this section have been adapted from resources produced by the University of Calgary, the University of California, and the University of Newcastle.

Developed collaboratively by the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation and Online Learning Strategies – Information Technology Services at the University of Toronto (April 14, 2020).