Assessments

We aim to help you consider how to adapt your course assessments, along with potential alternatives to standard in-class assessments.

When considering assessments under changing circumstances, here are a few criteria to support an effective approach:

  1. Define the goal(s) of the assessment. What specific knowledge or skills are you evaluating? What do you want students to learn or be able to do?

  2. Consider equivalent alternatives. What adaptations or alternatives will provide students with opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned?

  3. Be as clear as possible. Grade-related anxiety may increase during times of uncertainty. Clarifying the goal of an alternative as well as how you will evaluate students’ learning will help align expectations and alleviate stress.

Recommendations

To plan for the Fall 2020 semester, an Instructional Support Subcommittee on Assessment was formed from the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to provide guidance for Yale instructors in their uses of assessment. Below we highlight a sample of assessment approaches developed by the Poorvu Center and the subcommittee to inspire creative and reliable solutions to assessing students remotely. You may also view the full list of recommendations in their subcommittee report.

Considerations for Online Assessments

To best support academic integrity in light of the online learning context, consider the current format of your assessments (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, project-based), the level of thinking your assessments require, and the grading structure of your course. Specifically, we suggest the following considerations:

Select assessment formats that ask students to explain their thinking

Academic integrity can be increased by asking students to explain their approach, logic, or thinking. This can involve short answer items, written work, annotated portfolios or recorded/annotated presentations. Multiple choice exams can also be adapted to ask students to explain how they came to an answer. These explanations are harder to replicate than selecting a correct answer. This approach has the added benefit of improving students’ reflection on course content, which supports deeper learning.

For decreasing time to score open-ended items and increasing consistency in grading among TFs, using a rubric is best. Gradescope is a great tool for automating the grading of open-ended items. This Canvas plug-in tool can be particularly useful in large courses where scoring open-ended items can be time challenging.

Select assessments that require deeper levels of processing

Deepening the level of engagement required to correctly answer items can reduce the likelihood of an answer being easily found online or in textbooks. For example, multiple choice items that ask students to compare among options or to apply a specific concept, as opposed to asking for definitions, reduces opportunities for cheating. These higher-level items require a working knowledge of a concept, demonstrating a desired level of competence.

Use a grading structure that supports the building of knowledge over time

Altering the grading system to provide credit for students’ learning as they go through the semester (i.e., formative assessment) as opposed to high stakes assessments at the middle and end of courses (i.e., summative assessment) can be especially beneficial. Smaller assignments or quizzes allow students to study less material more deeply, provides feedback on their learning with enough time for them to adjust their studying, and can reduce student anxiety compared to having a low number of high stakes exams.

We encourage you to consider what may be the most appropriate assessment to use for your course content and the online context that respects students’ learning and the academic integrity of the work.

Increase academic integrity in multiple choice and short answer exams

The Poorvu Center encourages alternative ways of assessing students before considering remote proctoring, which creates technical and personal burdens for students and instructors. Faculty have found the following approaches helpful to acquire an accurate assessment of students’ learning.

  • Consider small edits to a question that change the correct answer between students while testing the same concepts. In this approach, the basic concepts are retained across questions but with subtle factors that change the outcome. When possible, ask TFs to review and try out your questions to assure the revisions are clear and auto-grading within Canvas is correct. 
  • Consider options and implications for when to make the test available to students and how long to give students to complete it, particularly if students vary across time zones. For example, some instructors prefer to leave the exam open for 12-48 hours to allow for time zone and technical challenges. Another option may be to “chunk” exams into smaller sections spread out over time, allowing students to focus on particular content while decreasing the stress on any single section of the exam.
  • Practice the process. Giving students a chance to try out the assessment approach you select using a low-stakes exam or assignment can help instructors and students work out any technical challenges (e.g., uploading files, accessing links) that may arise during a higher-stakes exam. This will also allow students to experience what an online examination may be like, which can help alleviate student anxiety.
  • Have students upload their individual work. Creating questions that ask students to demonstrate their knowledge through models or figures can help students practice applying their learning. This approach also allows for consideration of partial credit options.

These approaches, particularly when combined, essentially give each student a distinct test form. This can decrease the likelihood of dishonesty by increasing the effort associated with sharing or searching for answers. By taking these measures, students and faculty can focus on the course content rather than spending energy concerning academic integrity.

We also suggest being transparent about the purpose of these approaches to reinforce support for students. For example, be explicit that these measures are in place to 1) collect an accurate assessment of students’ current learning and to 2) ensure equity and fairness in grading, particularly where a curved grading approach may be used.  

Several Common Approaches to Online Assessment

Exams and Quizzes

  • Online exams through Canvas offer opportunities for students to complete timed and untimed exams. Instructors may also set other criteria for online exams, such as restricting when exams are available.

  • Consider assigning a take-home exam where students return their completed exam through email or as a Canvas assignment.

  • A portfolio approach may be adapted for small classes. This approach involves students compiling their assignments into a single document and providing annotations that highlight their learning process and revisions to their understanding. Students can also provide a written introduction to the portfolio.

  • For quantitative or equation focused exams, consider using the Canvas assignments tool for students to upload their written work. Alternatively, instructors can provide students with a visual model or equation with an intentionally missing portion or error and ask students to explain the error, its implications, and correct it. Another approach is to have students generate a test-item for a selected topic, explain the importance of the topic, identify and explain the correct answer to their question, and potentially provide rationale for their incorrect answers.

Keep in mind: You can foster academic integrity by using approaches that ask students to explain their thinking, apply their understanding to a new task, or organize their knowledge in a new way. Present clear guidelines about whether or not students can use resources for the exam or collaborate with each other.

In-class Presentations

  • Students may record a presentation via Zoom and share the recording link on Canvas or email it to the instructor. Instructors have the option to share presentations with others in the class if peer feedback is part of the assignment.

  • Instructors may create a video assignment folder allowing students to upload videos created in Zoom, Panopto or most any other video file.

  • Presenting live via Zoom is also an option. Students may present to the whole class or a subset of peers.

  • For a non-video option, consider asking students to upload a PowerPoint and/or script of their presentation.

Papers and Other Writing Assignments

  • Students may submit their written assignments and receive instructor feedback through email or Canvas.

  • To facilitate peer feedback, students may exchange documents and feedback via email, over Zoom or via Canvas peer review to discuss feedback.

  • For group assignments, consider using Box (all Yale users) or Google docs (Yale users with EliApps) to facilitate group work simultaneously on a single document. Canvas Groups also offers opportunities to set up collaborative spaces.

  • Revise the written work to incorporate the impact of the remote context or the COVID-19 pandemic directly. For example, if in line with learning goals, consider having students discuss issues of equity in access to direct materials or the difference between live and recorded performances.

  • Reconsider the format of the written work. An interview, news article, or cultivated documentation of existing digital resources could be more appropriate in this working context. The latter suggestion may also serve to collate existing resources for potential future remote learning.

  • Consider having students conduct a metanalysis of their own work, or existing digital resources and course resources, that discusses what they have learned in the course, how their thoughts have developed, and where the current interest lies.

One assessment approach may not work for everyone during times of changing circumstances, so be flexible when possible. Students who are ill or who face technical challenges with remote alternatives should be accommodated. Remember that our priorities are the health and success of our students.

Final Assessments

The same principles above also apply to developing final assessments. We encourage you to reinforce that a final is not the end of students’ learning but is an opportunity for feedback on their growth in understanding. A few considerations which may help guide your assessment decision include: focusing on learning objectives, emphasizing the skills you desire your students to gain through the course, and exploring alternative ways for students to demonstrate their learning.

Resources

7 Ways to Assess Online Learning and Minimize Cheating by Flower Darby, The Chronicle of Higher Education (accessible off-campus by logging into Yale’s VPN)

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