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Assessment Strategies

Assessment Strategies

[ HIDDEN ] Online Assessments: What is Permitted/Not Permitted

The Office of the Provost has provided guidance for what faculty can and cannot ask of students when administering assessments, online exams and finals.

Permitted:

  • Require a student to keep their camera on provided that it is focused solely on the student doing the work.
  • Record the session (with no sound) for later examination for anomalies.
  • Use exam proctoring software (if your school/department has purchased and uses such a solution), assuming it does not directly conflict with items listed below.

Not Permitted:

  • Ask a student to pan the room with their camera to show that the room is empty.
  • Require students to keep their microphones unmuted.

Assessments, Exams, and Finals in the Online Environment

During the term, you may need to evaluate your finals, exams, and other assessments for delivery in an online/remote format. Many assessments (e.g., research papers, written projects, essays) can be administered through Canvas or other web-based technologies (e.g., email). Often, these may need little or no modification.

However, some assessments (e.g., multiple-choice exams, finals) often require the instructor, TAs or a proctor to be present. If that is the case, it may be helpful for you to think about alternative ways to assess your students in the event that traditional face-to-face administration of exams is not available. Below are some key considerations for thinking about course-level assessments (particularly, multiple-choice exams) in a modified instructional environment and some alternative formats for assessing student learning that may be helpful if you suddenly have to move your class online.

Remote administration and proctoring of exams.

Many vendors have been contacting the University through direct marketing campaigns with offers of free access to their remote proctoring services. While these technologies may appear attractive given our current remote teaching situation, there is no one-size-fits-all product, and a university-wide solution will not be integrated in time for finals for a variety of reasons.

It is important to note that some faculty have already used Zoom to successfully proctor synchronous exams, while others have modified their exam formats entirely. The Teaching Center recommends that faculty consider alternatives to traditional exams at this time, and we are available to help.

Online Assessments – What is Permitted/Not Permitted: The Office of the Provost has provided guidance for what faculty can and cannot ask of students when administering online assessments.

  • Permitted:
    • Require a student to keep their camera on provided that it is focused solely on the student doing the work.
    • Record the session (with no sound) for later examination for anomalies.
    • Use exam proctoring software (if your school/department has purchased and uses such a solution), assuming it does not directly conflict with items listed below.
  • Not Permitted:
    • Ask a student to pan the room with their camera to show that the room is empty.
    • Require students to keep their microphones unmuted.

Set realistic expectations to help both you and your students. Let students know that you may need to make changes that will help them continue to learn, and that these changes may require some adjustment from instructors, TAs and students. Communicate with your students early and often about any changes you may make and reassure students that you are taking into account any unusual external circumstances in assessing their work in the class.

Recognize that learning can be demonstrated in many ways. Multiple-choice exams are a common method of assessing student learning in higher education, and they have many advantages. It may be helpful, however, to explore other assessments you can assign to allow students to demonstrate their learning.  Multiple-choice exams tend to be very effective for committing key concepts to memory and for prompting recall, both of which are fundamental to learning.  However, assessments that call on students to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply information are also very effective, though they may require more time from instructors to plan and evaluate.

Evaluate course changes for impacts on equity and inclusivity. Changes made to your teaching should not adversely impact students. When considering a possible change, ask yourself if the change has the potential to disadvantage any particular group of students in your class.

Recognize that each assessment method has both advantages and disadvantages.  Each of the methods identified below has strengths and weaknesses that you will need to determine and assess based on your instructional context.  Weigh your concerns about integrity of the testing process against the possible consequences for students from changing your tests/assessments. You may also want to consider the amount of time you and your TAs (as relevant) will need to modify the tests/assessments and to grade or give feedback on them.

Is a Final Examination required or necessary?

The first question to consider is whether or not a final examination is required or necessary. It may be that students have produced sufficient content to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for your course. In such instances, a final exam may not be necessary. Check with your department chair or dean to identify appropriate policies and guidelines regarding the administration of final exams.

What alternatives exist to face-to-face finals and exams?

The following suggestions are designed to address issues of academic integrity that can arise when exams are administered outside of the classroom.

Shift to an Open Book exam format.  This format promotes student learning and can help to neutralize the possibility that students will inappropriately rely on other resources to complete the exam by allowing them to consult other resources.  The following elements can be added to the exam (alone or in combination) to help ensure that students maintain academic integrity when course assessments happen outside of the classroom.

  • Add a section to the exam that requires students to give the course-related sources they used to answer each question (including page numbers, where appropriate), as well as the citation information of any other resources they used. Consider telling students they can use outside sources if they also give a well-considered recommendation as to whether the outside sources should be incorporated into the class in future quarters.
  • Add a question that asks students to write a short reflection on what they learned either about the content or about their own learning processes from the process of researching the questions.
  • Have students choose one question or problem on the exam that was difficult and explain the process they went through to find the answer and/or to solve it.
  • Have students choose the most interesting question or section on the exam and write a short paragraph explaining why they think it was interesting. A variation on this: Have students choose the question or section of the exam that targets information they feel is most applicable to their future careers and explain why they feel it is valuable for them to know this information.

Strategies to Address Cheating Online

Using the Closed-Book format, you may find the following suggestions helpful. Consider reducing the number of single-choice answers (e.g., multiple-choice questions) in order to add:

  • Short answer questions.  Adding several short answer questions that have been tailored to information presented in lectures gives students a chance to display what they have learned. It also encourages students to maintain academic integrity by tying their responses to what they learned by attending your class.
  • A metacognition task. Insert a section where students look at errors on a past exam and explain the correct answer to earn a certain number of points determined in advance by the instructor. This develops metacognition, helps students improve their learning, and makes connections to students’ past class performance.
  • A transformative reflection. Provide a question asking students to write a short reflection on how the course has changed their thinking about the course topic or about a course sub-topic. This helps students to become more aware of the effect your class has had on them intellectually.
  • Resource recommendations. Have students give a recommendation for two scholarly articles, news articles, videos, or other instructional media that the students have researched by writing a short (1-2 paragraph) explanation of how these pieces could help future students understand the course material.
  • An application task. Have students choose a question from the exam and explain how the knowledge it tests is important when applied to the field. Make sure you have discussed applications in class, and if not, it may be helpful to let students know that you encourage innovation on this task. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.
  • Move to an entirely short-essay exam format.  If possible, convert your multiple-choice questions to a series of questions that require students to write one-to-two-paragraph responses synthesizing course content.  Tailor the questions to your course’s specific content to encourage students to produce their own work and to discourage inappropriate reliance on outside sources (i.e., plagiarism).  Be sure to let students know the criteria you’ll use to evaluate their responses (e.g., a rubric) before they take the exam. If students have been expecting a multiple-choice test throughout the quarter, you may want to be mindful of the effect a sudden change in format can have on students’ ability to be successful on the exam, and weigh this against any changes you might make. If you feel the change is warranted, explain to students the reason for the change, and reassure them of your concern for their learning.
  • Assign an annotated bibliography.  If a traditional exam is not possible, and it serves your learning outcomes for your students,  you might consider having students write an annotated bibliography in which they choose 5-10 key scholarly articles from the course readings and write a short critical summary for each, explaining what the article is about and then giving their assessment of the article’s value to the field. Initially, students may think this is a difficult task, especially if they have never encountered such an assignment. Giving students a model for the task can be helpful and reminding students that it builds on skills they likely already possess (writing summaries, for example) can go a long way to ease their anxiety. If this is a novel task for students that is being introduced, due to external circumstances affecting your course, you may want to adjust your grading criteria accordingly.
  • Assign an application task. Give students a real-world problem-based application of the concepts (or just a single key concept) from your course and ask them to explain they would use the information learned in your class to solve the problem. This would require students to analyze the problem and then synthesize a response to it by revisiting the concepts learned in your course and applying them to the scenario you have described. This, again, could be difficult for some students. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.

Articles

E-Books

(Note: All resources linked below require access through the MyPitt Portal.)

Videos

Teaching Resources and Links

  • Information Literacy Rubrics: The ULS Information Literacy and Assessment Working Group has created several rubrics that can be used by faculty and librarians to incorporate appropriate structure and assessment to the development of their instructional sessions.
  • Sample Rubrics by AAC&U: Interactive site where you can input learning outcomes to get downloadable rubrics.
  • STEM Assessments: Here, we provide information about some assessment instruments that have been developed in the fields of Physics, Biological Sciences, Mathematics, Chemistry and Computer Science education. This information is by no means comprehensive, but it is intended to provide a starting point for thinking about assessing teaching effectiveness and investigating the extent to which various instructional goals are met by implementing a transformed course.

Documents

  • 5 CATs: Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Alternative Final Assessment Ideas: The purpose of this document is to create a list of alternative final assessments that instructors may not have considered using in the past that are:
    1. Remote delivery-friendly.
    2. Responsive to the unique challenges students face this semester and do not create unnecessary, additional burdens for faculty or students.
    3. Accessible, equitable, and flexible.

    The goal is to help instructors think creatively about how students might demonstrate mastery of student learning objectives.

  • Sample Syllabus Statement on Specs Grading: A sample syllabus statement on specs grading.

Other Resources

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