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Assessing Students When They Are Learning Online (Other Than The Test)

How can you assess you students when they are learning online?

Teaching and Learning Cycle


(We acknowledge that the information contained in this blog has been compiled and shared with the intent of helping faculty adjust quickly to moving course content fully-online during the COVID-19 pandemic. We do not claim to be the authors of all content. We thank the members of the academy, the POD Network, and those who have shared their ideas with us.)

As educators and students transition from teaching in physical spaces to teaching in online spaces, one of the questions that develops is “How do I test or assess my students learning?” It is not possible for every instructor to utilize a fee based proctoring service for testing. While proctoring services are an option, we do acknowledge there are a few drawbacks:

  • They create an additional technological hurdle before the student test; therefore, there is additional stress added.
  • They require substantial planning and communication between the instructor and student to limit the number of “false positive” flags of plagiarism.
  • Due to the extreme demand for proctored events, the window and infrastructure for setting up proctored events is lengthened (currently 7 or more business days prior to the testing window).
  • Not all students have access to the technology required for proctoring services to be delivered (ex.> webcam, microphone, up-to-date and computer device). Chromebooks are not supported or recommended. We recommend the use of Chrome and Firefox as browsers.
  • Students may have privacy concerns about third-party recorded remote proctoring. If this is the case, we recommend that students create a separate testing profile or user account for taking tests on their computer (they will still need their university profile to take the exam). This will separate all information accessible in the student’s personal profile. If you have questions about how to do this, Google --> “how to create a new profile or user account on my computer.”

This is why we do not believe that test proctoring is the solution for your assessment/testing needs; therefore, here is a compiled list of alternatives to testing:  

Start first with the question, “What course learning outcome am I assessing?”

  • Discussion forums: create key questions from the content the students are learning, post them into a discussion board, and ask students to answer. Require students to answer the prompts by citing the content from the lesson and any other supporting references. Once students have made an initial post, have them respond to two other classmates by critiquing those original posts that were submitted. For classes larger than 20 students, consider putting the class into groups of five, this will promote deeper conversations.
  • Limit the student time to answer questions: dependent on the type of question being asked and the number of questions on the test, consider calculating the time to complete the test/exam and set the testing window allowed per question. This assures that the information being assessed is at the forefront of the student’s working memory. We do recommend at least two attempts be allowed for this type of testing.
  • Series of quizzes: offers a low-stakes opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of material and gives you ongoing information about student understanding. Frequent quizzing has also been shown to reinforce student understanding. In D2L you can create a larger question pool and you can randomize questions (ex.> only 50 of the 75) in quizzes, making cheating more difficult. You can also create a minimum grade that students must reach before the quiz gets recorded in the grade book and you can give students multiple tries.
  • Student-developed quiz questions: writing quiz questions both builds and demonstrates students’ understanding of the material. This assignment can be structured as a collaborative group activity. Have students create more questions than you need and then choose the best questions or adapt them to your liking. Note the randomizing example above.
  • Open-book, take-home assessments: many disciplines already have a tradition of take-home exams, typically involving more conceptual or applied questions that students cannot quickly look up in a textbook. Have them cite and synthesize multiple sources to answer the assessment question. Consider allowing students to collaborate on a take-home assessment.
  • Written response multiple-choice questions: place your multiple-choice questions into to question text box and ask the students to reply with the correct answer and have them explain why they chose that answer. This encourages students to reason beyond memorization.
  • Paper instead of test: a standard alternative to a test, the paper can take many forms. Make sure that the paper is integral to the course learning objectives and not simply an add-on. One way to accomplish this, to help students write better, and to encourage academic integrity is to give the assignment early and ask for portions of the paper to be turned in at intervals: preliminary topic, outline, bibliography, draft, and so on. Ask students to include all drafts and notes along with the paper.
  • Professional presentations or demonstrations: students can create audiovisual presentations using a variety of media, powerpoint, prezi, Sway, and other tools. (Tip: have them save the narrated ppts. as mp4s.) If you want to avoid the technological hurdles, have them write out what they would have said in the notes section and ask them to cite their sources.)
  • Annotated anthology or bibliography/Literature Review: this project gives students choice in selecting works while assessing their higher-order abilities to evaluate sources, compare multiple perspectives, and provide rationales for their choices. (Make sure you provide detailed descriptions of what the product would look like. Remember, they may have never done this before. Consider providing an example.)
  • Fact sheet: students create a one-page fact sheet on a topic. Students must select relevant facts and explain them clearly and concisely. Provide further guidelines, such as: three points that are relevant to your life; one point that you would like to know more about; one example of application; and an open section for comments or opinions on topic.
  • Memorandum or briefing: students prepare a one or two page memorandum or briefing, with, for example, the following headings: background, problem, possible solutions with pros and cons, final recommendation (and you can add as you like, for instance, final recommendation with implications, possible impact, and so on). Besides being a good exercise in synthesizing material, it’s an excellent way for students to practice being concise and direct.
  • Peer- and self-review activity: these allow for personal reflection on learning and peer-to-peer instruction, both of which reinforce and deepen understanding. Students do need instruction in the task of providing constructive feedback. Targeted rubrics laying out expectations for student work are very helpful.
  • E-Portfolio: a student-selected portfolio of work from the semester. Students compile their best or representative work from the semester, writing a critical introduction to the portfolio and a brief introduction to each piece. These can be collected in D2L through an assignment file upload. Be sure to allow multiple uploads when creating the assignment.
  • Non-Traditional Paper or Project: creative assignments work best when they have some “real-world” relevance and offer students some choice in delivery format. Examples may be websites, video assignments, wikis, or infographics (you are only limited by your lack of imagination).
  • Op-Ed piece to be sent to local newspaper: the Op-Ed piece is a “real world” exercise that requires not only a thorough understanding of both sides of an issue, but an ability to understand the audience. Make sure you specify the two sides and have the students choose their audience. We encourage the use of materials from cannons and perspectives not specific to the student’s background. Alternative perspectives are key to developing a student’s diverse understanding.
  • Group Project: group projects require students to demonstrate mastery of subject matter and develop their ability to communicate and work collaboratively. It is crucial to make your assessment criteria and grading scheme clear, and to ensure that there are clear, explicit expectations for each team member. Have each student submit a reflection of their work and the work of teammates at the conclusion of the project. Microsoft Teams and D2L Groups may facilitate this type of interactions.
  • Journaling/Reflecting on learning: provide a prompt for your students that requires them to consider what they have learned in your course. Students could do this by submitting a paper that has a formal structure, complete with citations and references. Or this could be more informal through a blog post, or even a video blog post (vlog). Frame your guiding questions through who, what, where, when, why, and how. Alternatively, you could also frame your question as what, so what, now what. For other prompt ideas, check out Blooms Action Verbs.
  • Point/Counterpoint Debate: assign students a point of view to argue for or against regarding a specific topic in your course. Build this debate into a discussion board prompt and have students support their point of view with content from the course and require them to cite any references used. In classes of more than 20 students, create groups of 5 and assign each group their own point/counterpoint discussion board. The smaller group size can prevent students from feeling overwhelmed with the number of responses on a discussion board.
  • Universally Designed Lessons (UDL): a universally designed lesson gives the student as much freedom as possible to learn from you, while also requiring them to meet the learning objectives for the lesson you are teaching. As you are teaching your students consider trying to share your lesson in as many different ways as possible. There are several different resources for doing this: Zoom, Panopto, Narrated PowerPoints, discussion boards, mini-quizzes, etc. Then allow your students to submit their learning to you in a variety of ways as well. They could submit a paper, teach a lesson, create a performance video, etc. Give some freedom as long as the students are demonstrating those skills you are asking them to learn.
  • Revise/Resubmit: The sudden transition of teaching modalities is challenging for everyone involved in teaching and learning. As you and your students make this change, offer students the opportunity to revise and resubmit work. This allows the instructor to see student improvement and allows the student some flexibility to improve a grade.

*** If you must give a high-stakes test/exam, schedule a Zoom meeting and be visually present as the student completes the exam via D2L. Please note that you will not be able to see what is on the screen of your student and we currently do not have a lockdown browser that does not limit the use of Zoom, but your presence does make a huge difference. We encourage you to have the first question be the Honor Pledge and ask your students to enter their name in the short answer box as an electronic signature.

Ex.> I promise to abide by and act in accordance with Oklahoma City University’s Code of Student Conduct. I pledge that the work submitted is my own and I have followed the guidelines set forth by the instructor of this course. By signing my name below, I am providing my electronic signature in consent.

For more questions or personal consultation regarding alternatives to testing contact