Teaching Strategies

Assessing Learning

Guiding Principles

Just like in the classroom, you can evaluate your students’ learning through a variety of assessment types. Whether formative (low stakes/ungraded) or summative (high stakes/graded) in nature, the types of assessments you engage your students in might need to be adapted to fit a remote teaching and learning environment. However, you might find that the technology available allows you to approach the assessments and activities that you assign in new and creative ways. 

When we use the word assessments we are not just referring to traditional assessment methods such as tests, quizzes, or exams, but we are referring to any graded activity that is used to measure and evaluate student achievement of learning objectives. 

Assessments in online/remote courses might include the following:

  • Papers or Essays 
  • Presentations or Demonstrations
  • Problem Sets 
  • Projects or Portfolio Assignments
  • Case Study Analyses
  • Group Projects or Simulations
  • Infographics or Digital Posters
  • Quizzes, Tests, or Exams

These are just a few examples of the types of assessments and assignments that are typically used in online courses to evaluate student achievement of learning outcomes. These assignments can all be facilitated using Boston College supported tools such as the Assignment, Discussion Board, and Quiz features in Canvas as well as related tools such as Zoom, Perusall, Google Apps and others. 

Considering Exams in Remote Environments

While it is possible to facilitate timed and even proctored examinations in a remote setting, it is recommended that you consider modifying your exams to minimize the technology required and to reduce stress both for you and for your students as you adapt to this new remote teaching and learning environment. In remote learning settings, concerns about academic integrity often require instructors to modify their approaches to assessing student learning. 

Consider the following tips for possible modifications to formal examinations for remote learners:

  • Break larger examinations into smaller quizzes to be administered over more than one week
  • Turn higher stakes exams into the equivalent of “take home” exams, allowing students to use open notes or open books
  • Modify multiple choice exams into essay-based exams, project-based, or presentation-based assessments
  • Allow students to complete quizzes or exams via Canvas, but utilize question banks and randomization to ensure each student gets a unique version of the exam. 
  • Consider Authentic Assessment strategies which focus on projects where students focus on “real world” applications of the knowledge and skills learned. 

What Does This Look Like? Four Examples

Below are examples from BC online courses of different types of assessments. As you review them consider which are most appropriate to your course. How might you adapt them to suit your assessment needs? For further support in how to bring them into your course, keep an eye on the CTE’s COVID-19 preparedness page for training workshops. Or contact centerforteaching@bc.edu for an individual consultation. 

Take Home Exam

A take-home exam takes advantage of Canvas’s Assignments tool to task students with completing an examination paper in their own time over a specific period of time. The focus here is not on tasking students with remembering specific information over a short time but with getting them to grapple with key questions in a concentrated period of time according to specific criteria. 

This type of exam is a nice compromise for instructors who want their students to demonstrate comprehension of key knowledge and concepts, but who also want to reduce anxiety and stress for students over exams at this extremely challenging time. 

This example showcases how the Professors wanted their students to demonstrate their understanding of key concepts in the first section of the take home exam, and then apply those concepts in the second part to a previously unseen scenario. Note how the Professors specify the exact criteria they want students to use in their responses.

This guide from the Canadian government (of all places) provides an excellent overview of the positives (and the negatives) of take home exams and how to construct effective questions for them.

Final Learning Assessment

Many courses seek to build specific skill-sets in students that lend themselves to their application in real-world tasks. This type of final assessment tests students in their ability to apply their learning to a specific challenge. 

The key to this form of final assessment is to consider what kind of realistic challenge from your discipline would require students to demonstrate both comprehension of the subject matter and application of key concepts to new areas, in a format that showcases key skills.

This example showcases how a Professor wanted their students to demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter by crafting a real-world application of the discipline – a briefing paper. Note the extensive detail in the rubric and guidance for students in what the Professor would be examining in this assessment. This is vital for providing students with clarity on what concepts, knowledge, and skills the Professor is looking for.

This form of final assessment is useful for Professors looking to give their students a more engaging form of assessment that tasks students with demonstrating their application of course content to discipline-specific challenges. 

More examples of this form of final assessment can be found here:  What is Authentic Assessment – Authentic Assessment Toolbox (Mueller) and How do you Create Authentic Assessments – Authentic Assessment Toolbox (Mueller)

Canvas Quizzing

Of course not every course can easily migrate its assessments to take-home exams or assessments drawn from real-world applications of the discipline.

Here the Canvas quiz tool can provide a simple and practical tool for students taking exams. Canvas quizzing offers many choices of question type – from multiple choice, true/false, to short essay response. The useful element of Canvas quizzing is that it allows a lot of flexibility for individual students to receive extra time to take the exam if needed. Additionally, it can be set-up quickly and is relatively intuitive with some guidance from the Center for Teaching Excellence Team.

Example 1: Multiple different question type exam.

Example 2: Multiple Choice Question type exam

The downside is that it offers very little in the way of remote proctoring. If Professors are concerned about this then they should pursue the Proctorio software outlined below. 

This form of assessment offers Professors a relatively quick-to-set-up, straightforward, and student friendly way to offer exams. For more details on how to set-up Canvas quizzing please see the Canvas Community pages on Quizzing. 

Remote Proctored Exams

For Professors concerned about preserving the academic integrity of their exams then the remote proctoring service Proctorio can work very well. BC has secured a college-wide license for Proctorio, meaning all instructors have access to it. This software integrates well with Canvas and allows for Professors to facilitate a traditional timed proctored exam to students who are remote. The set-up for Proctorio allows the instructor to customize numerous elements of the exam. It has been used successfully at BC for specific online programs. Proctorio requires extensive support to set-up, so Professors wanting to use this software will need to contact centerforteaching@bc.edu as soon as possible. Professors concerned about student privacy data should be aware of what using Proctorio entails before they use it for their exams.

Documentation on setting up Proctorio is available at High-Stakes Testing in Canvas. This short video from Proctorio gives an idea of its process for remote proctoring exams. This is how a Professor set-up his final exam on Canvas, and here were his Proctorio settings for that exam. 

Academic Integrity & ERI 

During this period of emergency remote instruction, many instructors may find that the common sense steps they take to encourage academic integrity (i.e. proctoring exams) are no longer as easily available. Taking the steps noted above – offering flexibility in assignments, creating assignments that are tailored to the course and therefore difficult to cheat on, providing opportunities for low-stakes assessment – all encourage academic integrity in students. 

While Boston College has made Proctorio available for high-stakes testing situations, a number of faculty report that it is not the most intuitive tool, and that they are unsure how to balance a commitment to academic integrity and a commitment to respecting student privacy. Instructors who are looking for an alternative might consider having students sign an honor pledge before beginning the assignment, a low-tech solution that is shown to reduce rates of academic dishonesty (Ariely 2013).

High-pressure academic environments often contribute to a culture of academic dishonesty. While COVID-19 has caused mass disruptions and much worse to communities across the globe, the crisis also invites all of us to think about the fundamental purpose of our learning and teaching. Demonstrating care and compassion to our students, and encouraging them to consider policy shifts – like the extended pass/fail deadline – that allow them to practice self-compassion, are steps that can also encourage academic integrity in our university culture in a way that is humanizing for students and instructors alike.

Accessibility Concerns with Assessment

As with all other aspects of remote courses, we must keep accessibility in mind when developing materials associated with remote assessment. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that faculty utilize assessment tools supported by Boston College, such as those included in Canvas and other learning technologies supported by CTE, CDIL, and ITS. 

Additionally, we must consider accommodations for students with documented disabilities when creating remote and online assessments. Many students require accommodations for extended time on examinations and assignments, while others require in-class note taking support and other supports. If you have concerns about how best to meet documented accomodations in a remote setting, please contact the BC Disability Services office.

In order to ensure that remote assessments are accessible for all students, consider taking a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach and proactively remove potential barriers for all students. These approaches might include:

  • Makes tests, quizzes, and exams untimed or extended time for all
  • Provide students multiple ways for completing an assignment (submit as a paper or a recorded presentation, for example)
  • Allow for assignments to be completed in groups or individually

These are just a few examples, contact centerforteaching@bc.edu for additional support.

Further Resources

If you would like to explore these or other adaptations or would like to discuss remote exam proctoring options, please contact centerforteaching@bc.edu for a consultation. 

Please review these further resources for ideas on creating online/remote assignments & assessments: