Our classrooms should be equitable and inclusive spaces for student learning to happen. Assessment is a partnership with students and should center on student learning. Assessments, when designed effectively, provide great opportunities for students to engage in deep learning and for the instructor to gauge understanding, provide feedback, and assign grades.
- Provide an opportunity for students to learn
- Are based on established goals, criteria, expected standards
- Deliver meaningful feedback and useful information to students about their learning
- Produce information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching
- Give opportunities to students to close the gap between current and desired performance
- Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning
Moreover, it is important that:
- Clear and comprehensive guidelines for completing assignments are provided
- Grading Rubrics or grading keys are used for assignments, discussions, and/or quizzes
- Step-by-step examples of how to complete tasks or solve problems are given
- Review sessions or other support are offered
This page provides instructors and TAs with resources for understanding the the different types of assessments, selecting assessment strategies that align with your learning objectives in any teaching modality, and considering academic integrity.
Types of Assessment (Terms to Know)
When we think of assessment, we often think of high-stakes activities like timed and final exams and theses, but there are many other ways to assess and promote student learning, and some may be more effective and more closely aligned with your learning outcomes for the course.
Broadly, there are two types of assessments, summative and formative, each with a variety of approaches and each with different goals and should be used for different purposes.
The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit or term based on established goals, criteria, expected standards. Summative assessments are often “high stakes,” which means they have a higher point value and carry a lot of weight in the final grade. Examples include:
- Mid-term and final exams
- Final projects or papers
- Senior or capstone project
In contrast, the goal of formative assessment—sometimes called authentic assessment—is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve teaching and by students to improve learning. More specifically, formative assessments:
- Help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work; and
- Help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately.
Formative assessments are generally “low stakes,” which means that they have low or no point value. They are opportunities to practice in order to improve learning. Examples include:
- Concept maps
- Critical reflections
- Summarizing the main point of a lecture or lesson
- Feedback on drafts
- Discussion boards
- Explaining incorrect answers
- And so much more
Integrating many opportunities for formative assessment is a key way to center student learning when designing your assessment plan for the course. When you provide students with regular opportunities to check for understanding, test new ideas, reflect, correct, and revise, you support significant learning, and make it more likely that they will do well on the summative assessments. Formative assessments also provide you, as the instructor, information that can be used to help shape your teaching throughout the quarter.
The Assessment Checklist
✔️ To determine the most appropriate types of assessment to use, consider what you want students to learn.
✔️ Allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways with ample feedback and many opportunities to reflect, correct, and revise.
✔️ Focus on higher-order skills of analysis, critical thinking, problem solving and communication of thought process and solutions, as opposed to factual recall.
✔️ Spread assessment throughout the term, rather than relying on a small number of high-stakes exams or a final paper. Break large projects into small assignments and activities.
✔️ Provide opportunities for and encourage collaborative work.
✔️ Allow (or require) students to consult many sources to answer question
The FIDeLity Model for High Quality Feedback
Formative (as opposed to summative) assessment allows students to practice in a “low stakes” environment and allows you to gauge students’ progress, point them in the right direction, make suggestions, provide encouragement and praise, identify gaps, and correct misunderstandings. Formative assessment is any activity on the way to a culminating (i.e., final or summative) assessment for which you assess students’ performance.
Providing high-quality feedback in formative assessment is of utmost importance. The FIDeLity model is a useful approach to the provision of feedback (and a rather clunky acronym):
Frequent: Give feedback daily, weekly, or as frequently as possible. This can be done via comments in Speedgrader or through automatically generated feedback in quiz questions.
Immediate: Give feedback as soon as possible. Make sure that you schedule time for yourself immediately after students submit their work.
Discriminating: Make the differences among poor, acceptable, and exceptional work as clear as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to use a grading rubric (see below on this page).
Loving: Be compassionate in the way you give feedback. Harsh feedback is typically received as punishment, and punishment leads to aversion.
Good Feedback Practices
- Ask students what kinds of feedback they would like.
- Assign reflective activities.
- Ask students to identify examples of feedback they found helpful.
- Use guided peer review.
- Use grading rubrics to make expectations clear.
- Provide students with worked examples.
- Encourage students to resubmit revised work.
- Contact students who have earned low scores on an assignment with the “Message students who” feature in the Canvas Gradebook.
- Relate feedback to predefined criteria.
- Provide actionable feedback, not just information about strengths and weaknesses.
- Use low-stakes assessments for formative feedback.
- Make grades final only after giving students a chance to revise.
- Ask students to identify what they find difficult when they submit work.
- Use anonymous one-minute papers with the Canvas Survey feature at the end of a Zoom session.
- Check out the different interventions you can use to help students find meaning in their learning.
Timed exams are standard and common assessments, but there are other ways to assess student learning, and some may be more closely aligned with your learning outcomes. As you design your assessments, consider:
- Focusing on higher order skills of analysis, critical thinking, problem solving and communication of thought process and solutions, as opposed to factual recall.
- Allowing (or requiring) students to consult many sources to answer questions, as we do in the real world.
- Encouraging collaboration instead of competition.
- Spreading assessment through the term, rather than relying on a small number of high-stakes exams.
When we think of assessment, we often think of high-stakes activities like final exams and theses, but there’s more to assessment than finals. Low-stakes assessments serve many purposes in good teaching. Breaking down large assignments into smaller chunks with embedded formative low-stakes assessment can:
- help students to better assess their progress and manage their time;
- help instructors to learn where and how supplemental help needs to be provided to ensure that all students are equitably prepared; and
- help establish a learning environment through review and regular communications between students and the instructor.
Review the following examples of assessments. They may not work for all courses, subjects, or sets of learning outcomes, but they will give you a sense of the possibilities of assessment. (You’ll notice that all of these assessments also serve as learning activities.)
If you would like additional support with implementing assessment strategies in your teaching context, please reach out to us.
Open Book Exams
|What they are||Strategies for use||Other considerations|
|Open book exams require students to answer complex (and often real-world) problems while consulting course materials (e.g., a textbook or notes). Open book exams can promote and assess higher order thinking skills like problem solving, synthesis and evaluation.||Design questions that assess interpretation, application, comprehension, or critical thinking skills. Carefully review your exam for clarity, and include information on the exam for how students can communicate with you or the TAs.Exam can be offered with a large window (e.g., 24 hours).||Exams can be administered in stages. Questions can be shuffled in Canvas using question banks. Grading can be done more efficiently and fairly using Gradescope. Students can show work by writing answers on blank paper that they photograph and submit.|
Visual or Poster Presentations
|What they are||Strategies for use||Other considerations|
|A visual representation, often paired with a written or oral presentation, that conveys complex information in a way that makes it easy for a non-technical audience to understand.||Design around real-world topics when you need students to demonstrate their ability to analyze and evaluate information, and to then synthesize ideas in a creative form. Be clear about what you want your students to gain from the assignment and have them focus on that. Provide examples. Include a written or oral component, which students submit with their poster in a discussion forum||There are many design tools that are available to students at no or low cost. Use a rubric for critique or peer-to-peer review (can be done in Canvas), having students review at least one student’s submission.|
Elements of an Exam or Stand Alone Assessments
|Multipart Exams||First part is done independently and submitted. Second part is done in assigned groups with the students working on the same content. Students can revise their answers from the first part, but they must provide an explanation for the changes. For grading, only the second part counts, or it is weighted more heavily.|
|Explaining Incorrect Answers||Peer review of teacher-provided incorrect answers to short answer questions (instructor provides questions and anonymous answers from past students). Students provide reasoning for why the answer is not correct and how it could be improved.|
|Exam Wrappers||Post-exam exercise for students to review their responses in order to determine what learning they have and have not mastered. Rather than offering exams where students either succeed or fail, exam wrappers give students the ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses, correct mistakes, reflect on the adequacy of their preparation or study strategies, and to characterize the nature of their errors to identify any recurring patterns.|
|Case Studies||A case study presents students with a real-life or hypothetical scenario that is specific to the discipline and potentially what students might face in their careers. Case studies can be multidisciplinary and provide opportunities for students to apply concepts, research, and evaluate sources of information, and present their ideas. Cases can be simple and short or long and complex.|
|Fieldwork||Field work presents students with an opportunity to observe the physical world, to collect data, and to analyze the results.|
A case study presents students with a real-life or hypothetical scenario which is specific to the discipline and potentially what students might face in their careers. Case studies can be multidisciplinary and provide opportunities for students to apply concepts, research, and evaluate sources of information, and present their ideas. Cases can be simple and short or long and complex.
- Canvas Assignment
- Canvas Discussion Forum
- Zoom meeting if teaching online
- Ask students for a written submission
- Ask students to present synchronously (in person or on Zoom) or asynchronously (with pre-recorded video)
- Ask students to study the case in groups
A podcast is an audio narrative. It is not a recording of a student reading a traditional paper but rather a story. It allows students to demonstrate creativity and analytical skills.
- Give students the options of straight narrative or interview
- Structure the assignment in stages: proposal, script, draft, final
- Require students to submit practice recordings early in the term
- Ask students to produce the podcast in group
A critical reflection paper allows students to draw on critical and reflective thinking skills to articulate their learning. A critical reflection is not a summary of a reading but rather an opportunity for students to internalize and evaluate significant shifts in perspective that require openness and curiosity.
- Canvas Assignment
- Google Document
- Consult these sample critical reflection paper prompts from the University of Calgary
A concept map is a visual organization and representation of connections. It allows students to organize their knowledge and deepen their understanding. Concept maps can be used to assess students’ understanding of abstract and complex subject matter.
- Individual or collaborative group assignment
- Ask students to write a short paragraph explaining the concept map they’ve created or reflecting on the process
- Provide specific instructions and expectations such as a grading rubric
An infographic is a visual representation of information that uses charts, diagrams, pictures and icons, text, and color. An infographic requires students to analyze and synthesize information, and make evaluatory decisions.
- Ask students to submit their infographic with a short paper about their process
- Ask students to review and comment (with guidance) on one another’s work
An annotated bibliography requires students to summarize the most salient literature on a topic. Students develop skills in locating relevant literature, analyzing quality, understanding argument, and summarizing.
- Canvas Assignment
- Google Document
- Provide students with a spreadsheet or worksheet to guide their information gathering
News Article Critique
Critiquing a current news article related to the subject matter of a course can give students the opportunity to apply critical thinking skills and content knowledge to the wider world. It can be used to assess students’ understanding, ability to identify credible news sources, locate their own sources of information, express and justify their positions, and communicate their ideas.
- Canvas Assignment
- Canvas Discussion
- Provide examples of a news article critique and use the discussion board to discuss the elements of a good critique and news source
- Post a rubric or assessment criteria to help guide students’ work
Guiding questions help students focus on their learning as they engage with text, video, or other artifacts or experiences. Your object in composing the questions is to ensure that students get the most from course materials.
- Canvas Assignment
- Pose questions at the beginning of a module / in the assignment description rather than at the end
Question Banks & Question Groups
Canvas Question Groups allow you to add an element of randomness to a quiz or exam such that each student will have a different combination of questions.
Think of the Question Group as a hopper. It either holds a question bank (which can feed into any quiz) or two or more individual questions that serve as a mini bank (and don’t feed into any other quiz). The quiz draws a specified number of questions from the bank or group.
This helps improve the security of online assessments.
Effective assessments are based on established goals, criteria, expected standards. A rubric is a scoring guide used to evaluate performance, a product, or a project. For you and your students, the rubric defines what is expected and what will be assessed.
View this Rubric Guide for detailed information.
What is a grading rubric?
If you’ve never used a grading rubric, you’ve been missing out. A grading rubric is essential for any complex assessment or any assessment that is not automatically graded. Grading rubrics serve a number of purposes:
A grading rubric is a set of criteria with descriptions of levels of student performance for each criterion. (And, by the way, the criteria come from your learning outcomes.) It’s a simple tool that typically takes the form of a matrix that includes point values for each level.
- They allow you (and your TAs or readers) to grade more efficiently and consistently.
- They encourage more equitable grading by minimizing subjectivity.
- They make your expectations and decisions clearer to students.
- They reduce students’ uncertainty and complaints about their grades.
- They allow students to evaluate their own work.
- They save time!
Trying to Stop Cheating is a Losing Game
By focusing narrowly on the chance that a few students will cheat, we message to our students that we don’t trust them. They are likely to respond to those low expectations in kind. They see that we expect that at least some of them will cheat, and they do not wish to be disadvantaged by those who do.
By overly messaging the more draconian strategies we have developed to stop cheating, we, in essence, give students and other bad actors a roadmap to how to circumvent our cheating abatement plans. The internet is full of easy to access strategies for cheating with nearly every digital cheating abatement tool available. See below for more on messaging.
In online settings, when we try to replicate in person examinations, we fail to recognize that a change of medium may require a change of design.
At the level of design, lots of materials are available online for using technology to make quizzes and exams more cheat-proof and for preventing some of the most common ways students cheat in online exams.
TLC is happy to consult on best practices for designing exams in Canvas that make cheating difficult.
Promoting Academic Integrity
As naïve as it may seem, you may get better results by promoting academic integrity than by trying to stop cheating. You can find out more information about this approach on websites developed by MIT and UCSD, among others. Perhaps the most that you, as an instructor, can do is to present to students with a strong argument for the benefits of maintaining their integrity, while developing minimally cheat-proof assignments.
Promoting academic integrity involves making explicit to students that no matter how well or poorly they do on the exam, sacrificing their integrity is not worth it.
You could develop an honor code that you ask students to sign or initial at the start of each exam, or you could ask them to copy or retype a brief statement affirming that what follows is their own work.
If you would prefer to avoid continually asking your students to make a pledge, then just ask them at the end of the exam to compile a list of the external resources they consulted while taking the exam.
While this kind of transparency is not possible for all classes, it stops the “cat and mouse” dimension of monitoring for plagiarism and cheating by helping students to understand that scholarly work is work that builds on the work of others without trying to hide the reliance on sources.
Most importantly, you might want to discuss the following points with your students:
- When you cheat, you circumvent an opportunity to solidify your learning. While this may benefit you in the short run, it will catch up with you eventually.
- Once you have engaged in cheating, you will likely enter your next course unprepared. This will lead to the likelihood of further cheating in the future.
- The stress and anxiety that come from cheating on a test will almost certainly outweigh the stress of preparing to the best of your ability. Moreover, the stress and anxiety that come from cheating remain with you after you take the exam. Nearly all people who have cheated on a test or plagiarized someone else’s work remember having done so for the rest of their lives.
Practical Steps for Creating Successful Academic Integrity Syllabus Statements
Keep in mind that students enter your class thinking that cheating is wrong, and will generally try to avoid cheating. Research on our campus indicates that many, if not most, acts of cheating arise from a combination of:
- Genuine confusion about what constitutes cheating; and
- Desperation to get an assignment in on time.
Students need to be informed about the specifics of how the academic integrity policy is being implemented in your course.
- Will students be permitted to work in groups? Under what circumstances? How will you grade work done collaboratively? If you allow consulting between students, consider asking them to record with whom they collaborated to complete the assignment.
- Give detailed guidance about whether students may use external sources on their homework, quizzes, or exams. What kinds of external sources are allowable, and how do you want them cited?
- If the use of websites like Chegg or Course Hero is not permissible for homework and/or for exams, say so in your policy. Given that it is now possible for instructors to retrieve access logs from Chegg, let your students know that you have this capacity and whether or not you intend to use it. In cases where instructors have “caught” students by retrieving logs from Chegg, students have repeatedly said that, had they known instructors could do that, they would not have consulted Chegg. You may save yourself some trouble through communicating this ahead of time.
- Some instructors have begun adopting a “24-hour rule” (actual amount of time may vary) that allows students to substitute an assignment for the one they originally turned in. Some instructors have found that the “weight” of having committed academic misconduct leads students to want to retract the work and substitute one that contains work that is entirely their own.
- Provide Teaching Assistants or graders with the policy well in advance. Invite their feedback about whether the policy is understandable and sufficiently comprehensive. Many Teaching Assistants are on the front line of discovering student academic misconduct, and may have valuable advice on how to strengthen or clarify your policy.
- Take time in class to communicate the policy to your students, and include a clear statement on your syllabus (see sample here). You can also ask your TAs to spend time in section going over the academic integrity policy for your class in the first week.
- Encourage your students to communicate with you and your TAs if they are unsure about what constitutes cheating, or if they are having difficulties completing an assignment. If you can help students problem-solve before they cheat, you may not only prevent cheating but also strengthen learning.
- To help ensure that your students understand the policy, consider having them complete a Quiz in Canvas that checks their understanding of the policy. Some instructors also ask students to sign a pledge to accept the academic misconduct policy.
Further Reading & Resources
Grade Expectations: Why we need to rethink grading in our schools
Encouraging teachers to reassess their grading practices and make the adjustments that can guide their students toward academic success.
Assessment Strategies & Equitable Grading
Dr. Angela Little from the University of California Berkeley and a group of graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder discuss their experiences with useful vs unhelpful feedback, describing the importance of frequent feedback to students from peers and instructors.
Susan D. Blum | Inside Higher Ed
Formal education has led to a lack of learning in a number of ways, argues Susan D. Blum, and the one change that can make a big difference is getting rid of grades.
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