Five Principles for Meaningful Online Assessment
1. Focus on learning
Effective assessment helps students focus their learning on the most important aims of a course. Stating learning outcomes in clear, accessible language and directly linking assessment tasks to those outcomes supports student learning and success. Think about what you want students to learn and how they will demonstrate their learning.
Strategy: Use rubrics
Using rubrics helps students understand what high quality learning looks like and the criteria by which their learning will be assessed. Using a rubric can also help you (and any teaching assistants) grade with greater speed, consistency and transparency.
2. Balance structure with flexibility
Even though the immediate transition to remote learning is over, people’s circumstances (including your own!) may still not be ideal for teaching and learning. Students may be experiencing the challenges of sharing space and technology with family members, living in different time zones, dealing with inconsistent access to internet, etc. Try not to make assumptions about students’ technological skills or expertise with online learning platforms. These strategies will also support many student accessibility needs.
Strategy: Avoid requiring and/or grading synchronous (live) participation.
Linking grades to students’ ability to participate online at a given time is more likely to disadvantage people based on socioeconomic factors. Those with older technology, unreliable internet, small children at home, insecure living conditions, etc. will struggle most to demonstrate their learning in a synchronous situation.
Record any synchronous classes and post them in D2L. Students can interact with the material, the instructor, and each other by creating and/or responding to online posts in the discussion area.
Strategy: Provide flexibility by allowing students some choice about assessment weights
Allowing students some choice in assessment processes may increase motivation and self-regulation as well as promote equity by allowing students to minimize the impact of barriers related to access.
Allow students to choose how much weight will be given to various types of assessments tasks.
4 quizzes (2.5 or 5% each)
2 Case study assignments
(25% or 20% each)
Open book exam
* If you are going to use specific online tools for assessment, plan a low-stakes or no-stakes practice session for students to learn the technology before they need to use it in a graded situation.
Jopp & Cohen. (2020) Choose your own assessment – assessment choice for students in online higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, pages 1-18. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1742680
Strategy: Provide flexibility by allowing students some choice about how they demonstrate their learning
Following principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – see the Taylor Institute UDL Guide - increases equity by providing options for a wider range of learners. Providing some options that are less dependent on students owning top notch technology helps level the playing field.
Some courses may also students to choose the type of assessment task. For example, students can demonstrate the same learning outcomes by writing a paper, recording a presentation , or creating a digital poster. The key to this kind of choice is using a common set of criteria that applies across formats. See Principle 1 for information on how to create a good rubric with clear criteria.
If you need help setting up this kind of system in a D2L gradebook, see the eLearn site or connect with a Learning Production Technology coach.
3. Provide clear instructions and quality feedback
Clear communication is essential in online learning. As many students (and instructors) are still novices in online learning spaces, it is more important than ever to articulate your expectations and provide clear instructions for assessment tasks. Just as vital is the feedback students receive during and after assessment tasks.
Let’s face it - assessment is time consuming. But research shows that providing timely, specific, actionable feedback is one of the most impactful things teachers can do to support student learning. Recording feedback while you are grading can save time and improve clarity while supporting learning.
When you are reviewing assessments collected in the D2L dropbox – whether a graded final project or an ungraded draft - you can audio- or video-record your feedback while you are looking at each assignment. Note that D2L can also integrate rubrics (see Principle 1) as a source of feedback.
4. When possible, replace timed exams with other types of assessments
Assessment in online settings is significantly different than in face-to-face settings. While timed exams are ubiquitous in on-campus courses, online assessment requires a careful re-think of the role of exams.
Strategy: Use alternative forms of assessment
In online assessment, the key is to limit the possibility that technology limitations or glitches will negatively impact students’ ability to demonstrate their learning. While proctoring tools do exist, they have significant limitations and raise new equity concerns. On the positive side, there are a wide range of thoughtful, creative alternatives to assess student learning.
- Check out the extensive range of possibilities on the Taylor Institute’s resources and the University of Reading’s A-Z of Assessment Methods. From annotated bibliographies to e-portfolios, there are ideas for every kind of course.
- If you are looking for examples of virtual labs for your online assessment, see the extensive resources from LabXchange.
- There are also many online options for experiential learning components.
Strategy: Use open book exams
Open book, or open resource, exams provide robust opportunities for students to connect course materials with their previous learning by analysing, synthesising, critiquing, and/or evaluating information. By providing a longer window for completion, open book exams require less reliance on stable internet connections and allow students to work across time zones and challenging living situations. Accommodations for longer exam times are also no longer needed as everyone has ample time for completion
Adapt the following tips to effectively implement an open book exam in your course. Try to have a TA or another instructor look through the exam to anticipate any student confusion or questions so that you can revise instructions or add a Frequently Asked Questions section.
- Consider at least a 24-hour time frame from releasing exam questions to closing the submission dropbox.
- Be explicit about how long you expect it will take for students to complete the exam so that no one spends a literal 24 hours writing. Let students know they will not be given additional time if they have more than one exam in that 24-hour period.
- If you are concerned about how long students will devote to writing, consider breaking the exam up into multiple parts, each with a 24-hour window. Release and collect part 1 before releasing part 2. This allows you to see how things are going and make any needed adjustments for part 2. It also allows you to start marking part 1 as soon as possible.
- Include word ranges or word limits for each type of response for clarity of expectations and to ensure a reasonable grading process.
- Limit the need for students to create graphs/charts/complex diagrams if they will require technological expertise that may be a barrier.
- Focus on higher level thinking questions (aka ungoogleable questions) such as “What would happen if…”; “Why do these two theorists/groups/researchers disagree about…”; “Read this paragraph and discuss how it relates to the concept of….”
- Require students to explicitly draw on course materials. If you want citations, provide clear instructions about how to do that.
- Decide if/how you will enable students to ask you questions during the exam. Also clarify if and how you will respond.
5. Emphasize academic integrity
Academic integrity is a core value of the University of Calgary. Academic integrity is the foundation of the development and acquisition of knowledge and is based on values of honesty, trust, responsibility, and respect. We expect members of our community to act with integrity.
Strategy: Keep the focus on promoting learning, not on avoiding cheating
Research does not support the idea that more cheating occurs in online courses. However, the nature of the academic misconduct may change. There might be more use of unauthorized materials or unauthorized third parties. As educators, our role includes assessing in ways that are appropriate and fair for the learning environment. Using the above principles can help to mitigate concerns about academic integrity.
- Whether in face-to-face or online learning environments, conversations about academic integrity should happen early and often.
- See the specific strategies for using D2L quizzes (such as question randomization) and online assessment in the UCalgary resources on academic integrity and online learning.
- Ensure students are familiar with the Academic Integrity Student Handbook.
Kelly. (2014). Promoting academic integrity in the online classroom. Faculty Focus.