It can be a challenge to find alternative – and equally authentic – remote assessment methods that accurately recreate what you have done in classroom or workshop situations. Barriers may be logistical, technical or even financial, and some may simply reflect the increased complexity of instructors’ and learners’ lives or special learning needs.
Online platforms, such as Blackboard, are not necessarily the best environments for standardised testing with multiple choice answers. Instead of basing a grade on one or two heavily-weighted timed exams, it might be better to allow your learners the opportunity to do their best work in the most productive environment for them. In such cases, frequent, asynchronous assessments may more plausibly fit their (and your) new realities.
Whatever your learners’ unique needs might be, this handy guidance should help any training provider to make the leap from off- to online assessment.
1. Identify Your Unique Challenges When Shifting to Remote Assessment
There are a lot of concerns among teachers and trainers around the authenticity and accuracy of remote assessment. These tend to be some of the most common issues cited:
- Cheating is easier online and it is difficult to assess an identity of learners easily, you may need alternative assessment plans to accommodate unique learners’ contributions.
- Online learners need more incremental support and scaffolding for every learner to successfully deliver major assessments in quality.
- The need to provide detailed feedback to ensure the success of everyone, and identify any additional needs, is much greater with remote delivery.
Also give deeper consideration in your planning stage to:
- Learning Objectives: What are you trying to measure?
- Individual vs. Group participation: Are learners completing assignments individually or in groups?
- Synchronous & asynchronous formats: Do they need to complete these assessments at a scheduled time or could these be submitted during a time range or by a specific deadline?
- Cohort size: What is the impact of cohort size on the type of assessment you select? Essays may sound like a good idea until you have to grade 120 of them.
- Specialised contexts: Are there custom needs that make online assessments challenging for you or your learners, as there often are with performance-based or STEM courses?
💡 Read more here about the 7 common assessment challenges of moving your course online (and solutions)
2. Embed Academic Integrity & Accessibility Needs in Your Assessments.
- Communicate your expectation about the plan and tools you will use for remote classes. Ensure everyone adheres to and practices academic integrity. Relearn how to communicate remotely with your learners.
- Vary your assessment techniques and provide multiple means of assessments. Ideas include turning exams into a collaborative assignment where a pair or teams of learners can work together on problem solving in a safe and supportive learning environment.
- Relax your rules for grading criteria and missed classes. Suggestions include creating open-book exams for learners to take time to engage with the material. Avoid exam time limits or give extra time to complete assignments. Rather than curving grades for online assessments, consider setting exam grades on an absolute scale. Minimise peer-to-peer grading because not all learners will share the level of interaction or access to each other.
- Leverage live Zoom sessions to help learners verbalise exam responses and provide opportunities for feedback. You can introduce the exam over a synchronous video session, and then provide learners with a separate window interface in which they can access the exam and submit their answers.
- Make exams materials accessible for as wider audience as possible: Some course content inadvertently precludes the participation of learners with disabilities. For example, if course videos are not captioned, learners who are deaf cannot access the content presented in them. Similarly, learners who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities that impact their ability to read the printed word, use screen reader technology so that they can view the printed word and hear it spoken at the same time but readers will be blocked from using content in inaccessible PDFs!
💡 Consider the following tips from Adapting Exams to Teaching Remotely
3. Design your synchronous session to support learners’ engagement & sense of belonging.
A good place to start is with the Backward Design approach to course design, which we have written about here, and ask yourself the following:
- What do I want learners to know and be able to do when they leave this course/lesson? (Learning Objectives)
- What kinds of tasks/deliverables will reveal whether learners have achieved the learning objectives? (Assessments)
- What kinds of activities (synchronous & asynchronous) will prepare learners to demonstrate understanding? (Activities)
It is very difficult to sustain learners’ engagement in multi-hour virtual sessions. You might consider finding opportunities for aspects of your instruction to be delivered asynchronously.
For the parts of your course that remain synchronous, here are some suggestions on how you can intentionally design your session to support learners’ engagement and sense of belonging.
- For smaller classes/cohorts, greet learners by name as they enter the virtual room. (Microsoft Teams & Zoom “doorbells” alert you to a new arrival.)
- Demonstrate the Zoom features you plan to use (particularly in early sessions). Not all learners will be familiar with the technology.
- Include stretch breaks in sessions over 40 minutes.
- Give roles to learners for effective breakout discussions, such as note-taker, timekeeper, reporter.
- Try to incorporate classroom routines, such as opening and closing circles.
- Allow learners to share responsibility for supporting peers’ learning:
- Facilitating small group discussions
- Bringing discussion questions to class
- Providing asynchronous feedback (be sure to set clear expectations for peer feedback)
Consider using collaboration tools which create a shared sense of presence:
- Google Docs and Google Slides
- Zoom whiteboard (You must enable annotation to allow all participants to be able to annotate the whiteboard. See the Zoom support doc Using annotation tools on a shared screen or whiteboard.)
- Collaborative whiteboard tool like Draw.Chat – Virtual Classroom for doodling as learners arrive.
- Try to create common visual signals to use as a group. These could be playful, such as holding up various everyday objects.
4. Use Learner-Centric, Collaborative Assessments.
Promote deeper learning with authentic experiential assignments, which allow learners to engage more deeply with whatever they are learning. Think of a task or activity that would allow your learners to apply the course content to their real lives. Better still, help them find a real world situation or work-based scenario.
💡 Write a few prompts on Canvas Discussions to brainstorm ideas
Build in Time & Virtual “Coworking Spaces” for Learner Collaboration:
- For larger cohorts/classes, allow enough time for Small Groups and Pair Work using Zoom Breakout Rooms for learners to collaborate on ideas and check in on progress on their projects based on interests and/or desired artifacts to create.
- Encourage learners to be as inclusive as possible with each other, using asynchronous ways of communicating (e.g., discussion board, emails, coffee hours, etc.)
- Using Google Docs or any other collaboration tools will allow you and your learners up to date on remote collaboration. Let them know how their project work will be communicated with you.
5. Consider One or Two Simple Strategies & Tools for Starters
- Open-ended assessments and questions can minimise cheating. Survey learners with a quick list of 5-10 questions that covers the core things learners should have learned for the week. For classes with quantitative content, come up with assessments that are hard to find on Google.
- If you have a test or quizzes already created on a tool such as Canvas, give learners unlimited attempts (see Canvas Quiz Setting Options). This helps learners check for their understanding as needed to master course concepts. This may not be a perfect strategy but keeps you informed of your learners’ progress.
💡 When creating assessment questions, start with simple questions focused on evaluating core concepts (with the primary goal being bringing learners back to main learning objectives).
- During your Zoom session, you can use the Poll to administer effective polling questions and activities.
- Be very specific about how and where assessments will collected. Provide accessible means for communication (email or scanned images!). Canvas Assignments are a great place to centrally collect student assessments.
- Consider using Bloom’s Taxonomy for a range of assessments that address simple to complicated objectives.
Take a look at these ideas below from the University of Louisville…
Online Summative Assessment Alternatives (Focused on Mastery of Content):
|Use submission tools for individual and group submissions.
Consider the number of learners in your class prior to assigning long papers (which you will need to grade).
|Have learners pre-record their presentations and upload on Discussion Forums (for student feedback and comments) and/or use a submission tool for final submissions.
Consider creative options for performance-based courses that use audio or video.
|Use Zoom for individual and group presentations using the screen share feature.|
|Where possible assign digital artifacts that can be uploaded; for example, audio recordings, video demonstrations, digital models or coding.
Combine with a written or narrated submission that explains the product/artifact.
Use a submission tool for final submissions.
Consider creating an online gallery of project artifacts using WordPress or Google Sites if applicable and time permitting.
|Use Zoom for individual and group presentations using the screen share feature, if sharing with the class is an objective.|
Online Formative Assessment Alternatives (Ongoing Activities & Low-Stakes Assessments):
|Learners can review the case offline and then respond to questions (individually or in groups) on Forums or Assignments.||Synchronous time may be better spent in whole class discussion, not in viewing shared content.|
|Clarify instructions for written assignments periodically
Organise instructions so learners can easily keep track.
Consider using the Assignments tool or Student to keep linked written assignments in a single place.
📚 More Useful Resources:
- Writing Better Questions for Online Assessment
- Authentic Assessment
- Adapting Exams to Teaching Remotely (Tufts)
- Best Practices for Online Tests (Pepperdine)
- Learn how to Download Poll Results from Zoom and three ways to use Poll in Zoom Meetings. Review poll results and reach out to individuals to provide further support.
- Learn more about Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that are low-stakes and easy to implement using Canvas, Zoom Poll, or Survey Tools like Google Forms.