Design Assessments

Assessing Students Virtually

You already use some combination of tests, quizzes, problem sets, research projects, essays, and other assignments to assess how well your students have learned what you expect them to learn.  Now you need to adapt these "assessments of student learning" for an online environment.  

Find suggestions for addressing common assessment challenges tailored to your classes or subject area in the rest of this module. In general:

  • Break big, high-stakes assessments into smaller, more frequent assessments
  • Use Canvas (or Blackboard) to assignment instructions, collect and grade student work
  • Keep your own workload in mind.  Find out how in CTL Protip 5.
  • If you come devise a great solution, or have a question, join the Discussions.

ITS has lots of useful resources for creating tests and other assessments of student learning:

  • Identify the skills and knowledge that students are expected to learn and demonstrate during clinical practice (these are often identified by external accreditation agencies)

  • If students can work directly with “clients” either face-to-face or virtually
    • Do students have resources and permission to videotape themselves working with clients?
      • If they can videotape, you can provide synchronous and asynchronous feedback. Tools such as Sibme can be used to provide feedback on videos.
      • Peer evaluation - have students evaluate one another's work
  • If students cannot work directly with clients (these can also be used for formative assessments)
    • provide videos of other professionals working with clients and have students assess them using the scoring guidelines/evaluation tool that will be used to evaluate them
    • have students role play with each other and provide feedback to each other

PDF version: Clinical

For lab courses:
Provide students with a video of the lab and data collected during the experiment and assign them to develop a laboratory report demonstrating application of theoretical knowledge to the experimental data. See also tool kit for labs.

For project based learning and capstone courses: 
Use ongoing, formative assessment, including weekly planning, review and critique meetings and written progress reports. Instructors should provide students a regular meeting time every week to go over the design and development issues and provide adequate feedback to lead the students to the product design.

Examinations: 
Open-ended, open books and notes examinations are recommended.  Instructors may email exam questions with a stipulation to return within a designated time frame. (Extended time should be provided to students of varying abilities who request accommodations.)  Instructors should communicate their expectations for academic honesty (e.g., no group work, no contract services) and take appropriate steps to support integrity in the testing environment including use of Respondus monitoring.  Academic integrity communications and requirements should be applied evenly to all students; it may be a violation of university policy to single students or groups of students out for additional monitoring.

Examinations: 
If using true / false or multiple-choice questions, develop a deep question bank.  Set your Canvas (or Blackboard) exam settings to prevent backtracking and randomize question order.  Instructors should communicate their expectations for academic honesty (e.g., no group work, no contract services) and take appropriate steps to support integrity in the testing environment including use of Respondus monitoring. Academic integrity communications and requirements should be applied evenly to all students; it may be a violation of university policy to single students or groups of students out for additional monitoring.

Examinations: 
If exam answers contain diagrams , equations, graphs , or schematics, instructors may assign students to handwrite the answers on paper and submit as a PDF.  Instructors should communicate their expectations for academic honesty (e.g., no group work, no contract services) and take appropriate steps to support integrity in the testing environment including use of Respondus monitoring. Academic integrity communications and requirements should be applied evenly to all students; it may be a violation of university policy to single students or groups of students out for additional monitoring.

PDF version: Engineering

  • Assess often, using a variety of methods. For these “formative” assessments, use short quizzes, quizzes embedded in videos, short responses to analytical questions about the readings, “check-in”s, etc.
  • Use Canvas to offer feedback on quiz answers, including referring students to a specific section of the book.
  • Consider allowing open book quizzes that students can take as many times as they want.
  • For summative assessments, design assignments that discourage cheating. One colleague in political science writes, “I have students choose a recent news article and connect it to class content, which means using something someone previously did for the class wouldn't work, or having students choose a country at the start of class and follow it through the course, writing about it as part of their final exam.”
  • Use CourseKey for quizzes.
  • Require weekly writing and credit it automatically on submission. Let the students know you will read the weekly writing from the class 3 - 4 times a semester. Use it to help you gauge how well the class is doing with understanding.

PDF version: High DFW

PDF version: Labs

  • Identify the primary learning objective for each exam (e.g., basic knowledge, analytical abilities, critical thinking) and construct the exam in light of that learning objective and the desired level of learning (e.g., Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Reiterate to students that learning is naturally challenging and some level of struggle is expected. Demonstrate support for this perspective by avoiding having a single make or break exam/assignment. More exams are preferred to fewer. This allows students to accept challenges in learning without condemning them to a grade solely dependent on that one hard moment of learning.
  • Create a deep bank of questions and randomly assign each student to see a certain number of questions from the bank
  • Know the tools available in your online platform, such as lock-down options, randomization, and timers; communicate the use of these tools clearly to students; recognize the pros and cons:
    • Lockdown Browser and Monitor use includes more restrictive technology needs on the part of students (e.g., ChromeBook will not accommodate). At SDSU alternative arrangements MUST be made for students without the technology, such as an essay alternative.
  • Consider pre-emptive honor code and discussion of learning-based environment
  • Use formative assessments (e.g., low stakes, open book, high feedback, simplistic grading) AND summative assessments (e.g., traditional exam seeking a normal course distribution)

Additional Resources

Arizona State University, Best Practices for Large-Enrollmment Online Courses
Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning
Inside Higher Ed, Effective Teaching Online
Learn Worlds, Learner Assessment in Online Courses: Best Practices and More
Texas Tech University, Tips for Teaching Large Classes
University of Maryland, Center for Teaching Excellence
University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching

PDF version: Large Lectures with High-Stakes

  • Provide “Hints” or “Tips” notes: In studying quantitative methods, students often have trouble understanding what concepts, tools, and content is the most important; help them do so by providing them this information ahead of the reading, so that they know which concepts to spend the most attention on and not get “lost in the weeds.” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40594-017-0096-x
  • Use Mini-Projects: Mini projects have been found to help students master quantitative course content; hile these can be structured in different ways, having students apply the course concepts immediately after learning them will help to ensure students understand core concepts. These projects can build upon one another and lead to the final project, or stand alone. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40594-017-0096-x
  • Minimize (or eliminate) high stakes exams: Use lower stakes quizzes!
  • Host Live Sessions/Office Hours: Students can ask questions about readings as they relate to assignments

PDF version: Quantitative

  1. Supply, for any performance- or project-based assessment, a brief and rubric/grading scheme that clearly articulate the artistic goals and student learning outcomes.

  2. Be cognizant of spatial (performance) and technological (visual) limitations; any flexibility with submission formats are encouraged. Be mindful that students do not assume that students have printing capabilities, and may have to reproduce (portions of) visual assessments by hand; students may also have limited tools that would normally be available by SDSU or instructor.

  3. Embrace flexibility of live-testing (for live performances, they can be scheduled at a mutually convenient time) vs. pre-recorded. Pre-recorded allows students additional (re-)takes, and provides the instructor additional opportunities to reflect and generate feedback that normally would have to occur in “real-time.”

  4. Utilize certain zoom features such: as "hide non-video participants" (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362323-How-Do-I-Change-The-Video-Layout-#h_7fbf4fed-9ea2-44ed-83d4-11f1b7b689cd) to look at one or more students performing without seeing the rest of the class's video tiles, which helps create the sense of watching performers on stage. Mirroring of screens (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201379235-iOS-Screen-Sharing-with-the-Zoom-Desktop-Client) is also a valuable tool.

  5. Provide formative feedback not only synchronous (during virtual meetings) but also asynchronous (either through Blackboard/Canvas) via e-mail, summarizing major points of a meeting, or elaborating on any points. For quizzes/exams over technical components of a course, allow students to retake if they failed, encouraging deeper learning over rote memorization.

PDF version: Studio/Performance and Visual Art Courses

Add Assessments to Canvas (or Blackboard)

Once you have designed your assessments, add them to Canvas (or Blackboard).

  • Add assessments and assignments to Canvas within Modules.
  • You can transfer tests and assignments from your old Blackboard course to Canvas. 
    • Export the material you want from Blackboard.
    • Import to Canvas
    • Expect to move things around once you've imported from Blackboard.
  • Check that PDFs and other documents are accessible.  Canvas does this automatically - click on the red, orange or green dial-shaped icon next to your documents to see what you need to change.

Assessment Tools Comparison Table
World Campus Teaching Online Primer on Assessments