Alternative Assessments to High Stakes Exams
When preparing for upcoming exams, instructors should carefully consider the assessment needed to meet their learning objectives and what adaptations are necessary to meet the realities of the current emergency public health situation.
Proctored examinations are typically considered “high-stakes testing” and are not always a necessity for assessing a student’s mastery of a course’s learning objectives. Creative alternatives to proctored exams such as those that follow should be carefully considered as acceptable options given the realities we are faced with this semester:
- Essays and papers including such things as executive summaries, creating an infographic or poster session, or writing an OpEd essay on an issue
- Oral reports such as live webinars, or recorded video/audio reports
- Open book exam
- Create your own product exam such as a software product, a video tutorial like a YouTube “how-to”.
Alternative Assessment Strategies
The following guide is intended to help provide you with some quick resources for alternatives to traditional exams. You are encouraged to use these, create your own, or some combination thereof! UND and TTaDA are here to support your teaching and professional development.
UND’s own Chemistry professor Shaina Mattingly has developed a triple-threat assessment that is 1) low stakes; 2) easy to do remotely, and 3) helps students end the semester on a positive, successful note. She has students focus on those learning objectives, write their own study guide, and include either a hand-drawn or computer-based image or a math problem they’ve created to demonstrate at least one of those learning objectives. In many ways, this assignment demonstrates backward design on the part of the student which simultaneously makes them responsible for their own learning.
Emory University has made an interactive web tool called “Final Exams for Remote Courses” that allows you to choose first what your assessment goal is and then provides examples of activities to assess those learning objectives. You simply arrow over into the tool and then hover over the circles to discover more assessment techniques. It’s really quite fun!
Emory University has also provided a Zoom recording of their accompanying “Reimagining Assessment” webinar to the public.
Angelo and Cross (1993) have been around for a while, but there are reasons why their strategies are still used today. These short and sweet, often informal assessments help us to get the pulse of the student and make timely interventions for improvement. This webpage from the University of Kentucky quickly outlines 50 CATs you could easily convert to the online environment and what learning objectives the assessment is measuring. Consider using multiple, smaller assessments instead of one, high-stakes assessment at the end of the semester to allow students to better demonstrate their learning.
Online labs can be used at any point in the semester, and an online lab can even be a great final assessment considering that this is how active learning takes place in the classroom! When compared to a pen-and-paper exam, a lab demonstrates more learning and more consistency.
UND is currently looking at purchasing software and online lab kits to support faculty and students during the coming semesters, but for now, you can check out the following webpage from the Chronicle on “How to Quickly (and Safely) Move a Lab Course Online”
If you are looking for a ready-to-use, already built online lab for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth/Environmental Science, Engineering, or Math, Merlot has you covered! This free compilation of open educational resources includes multiple online interactive labs in this section, and they are all free and easy to use! You have to dig down a bit into the links to get to the actual labs, but the effort is worth it once you know how to navigate the site’s free web resources. Be sure to check out the “ePortfolios” sections which give you practical, real-world examples of how other faculty have integrated these online technologies into their lesson plans.
Portfolio work often combines the best of CATs and written or filmed student work. The whole point of portfolios is to provide consistency and connection across a semester and then to showcase a student’s learning at the end of it. Even if you haven’t been intentionally creating or grading a portfolio over the course of this semester, you can create one at the end by having a series of written assignments, group work, videos, etc. count toward a portfolio and have student’s choose and build upon their best work. It gets students involved in their own active learning, and it can even be a point of pride. VoiceThread is a great tool for portfolios as it is so interactive! Here are some ways that VoiceThread can be used to create student portfolios.
UND’s own faculty have been successfully using portfolios in a variety of ways in different disciplines.
Danielle Villano has students in her Nutrition & Dietetics Senior Practicum course create portfolios using OneNote. The following YuJa video has instructions specifically for the competencies that are required her course, but they can easily be adapted for different classes.
Biology professors Chris Felege and Jeff Carmichael have recently started experimenting with portfolio-based learning as well. They use their courses’ goals and objectives (one of which is attached for reference) to create documents that students work on as a way to demonstrate that they have accomplished what the courses are intended to. This not only documents that the faculty have covered the material using best practices but also allows students to use these on their exams as a way to incentivize them. This method incorporates so many of the best practices listed already such as portfolio-based learning, backward course design, and open book testing.
There are a number of creative projects students can make to demonstrate learning. Unlike exams, papers allow students to dive deep into a topic and demonstrate active learning through research, reflection, and analysis. Multimedia projects provide the same, and both papers and projects are more presentable. A presentation can even be an assessment, and they are often used both remotely and for final assessments. Here are some example student assignments, from various UND folks, that you could adapt to your classes:
- Create a PSA (Public Service Announcement) in video or audio format for a timely concern
- Write a cover letter for a paper or other assignment asking students to reflect on how they best completed their work, what they could improve upon, and what grade they think they deserve
- Record interviews with fellow faculty or other experts either in-person or remotely on a topic of interest; this works especially well for low-stakes assignments for foreign language courses
- Record a video of telling a children’s story in sign language
- Record an audio file for a museum exhibit that extensively and accurately describes that exhibit
For assistance with incorporating one the recommendations above, or brainstorming strategies of your own, contact our team of Instructional Designers or Jenny Reichart, Faculty Development Specialist/Academic Coach. Additionally, the following resources are available to help you.
According to UND’s Instructional Design Coordinator, Elizabeth Becker, Hoonuit/Infobase is UND’s “best kept little secret,” but we don’t want it to be! This underutilized online knowledge repository contains thousands of videos on all kinds of academic technologies, online teaching pedagogies, and more.
To log in, enter your NDUS.Identifier and password. Visit the NDUS.Identifier page for username and password questions.
Here is a link to a wonderful video called “The Power of Formative Assessment.” In addition to a brief introductory history of high stakes testing that calls into question our blind faith in this relatively recent academic convention, the videos are divided into short, easy-access modules with validation and examples of formative assessment.
Large-enrollment courses present unique challenges for faculty in terms of assessment, remote instruction, and sheer manageability. TTaDA staff are working with faculty here at UND and at other institutions to troubleshoot issues around Scale-Up classrooms. One method that is working well is the use of breakout rooms in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Whether you are using Scale-Up or not, it is more manageable to grade smaller, group projects than lengthy, high-stakes, individual final exams. The article on large-enrollment classes has a helpful “Assessment” section toward the middle.
TTaDA offers monthly workshops focused on teaching strategies and academic technologies. A few weeks ago, our own TTaDA colleagues presented the Zoom session “Alternative Assignments to High Stakes Assessments in Rapid Remote Instruction.”
If you are feeling intimidated by having written assignments as alternative assessments, have no fear! The UND Writing Program has you covered.
You can access the UND Writing Center’s information on APA, Chicago/Turabian, and MLA formatting in free, easy-to-use Formatting & Documenting Guides.
If you are trying something new with a writing assignment, also encourage your students to try one of the Writing Center’s Zoom sessions with our expert consultants! This link will take them directly to the scheduling calendar, so you can pop it right into an announcement and/or assignment sheet: https://und.mywconline.com/schedule.php
The UND Writing Program also houses the Writing Across the Curriculum program, which provides faculty opportunities such as assistance with course development with a writing focus and classroom practices for teaching with writing, such as assignment design, responding to writing, and evaluating writing.
TTaDA recognizes that it is sometimes necessary to give High Stakes Exams as it helps prepare students for board or certification testing they will need to complete for their discipline. Instructors determining that an exam with some level of security is a necessary component of the assessment process in their course should consider the following options:
- Timed tests within Blackboard - structured so all students take the exam in the same time window, the length of which is designed to make it difficult for students to have the time to search other sources for answers,
- Respondus lock down browser within Blackboard - this option prevents students from printing, copying, going to another URL, or accessing other applications while in the exam,
- YuJa Proctoring - student records video/audio and their computer screen while completing an exam. The recording is securely saved to a centralized instructor folder so students can’t distribute the exam recording to others.
These three options are further described on page 2 of the Using Blackboard - UND Basics document.