Conducting assessments online: What options do you have?

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown many faculty members into a limbo particularly when it concerns assessments. While most have managed with online teaching to some extent either through recording of their lectures or conducting live webinars, many are still grappling with how to conduct assessments online. In this post, I put together some options that you may wish to consider be it using your campus learning management systems (LMS) [examples include: Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, LumiNUS], or other open platforms that may be available to you.

When developing your online assessments, some important aspects for you to consider include:

  • Establishing the purpose of your assessment, and what you hope to achieve
  • Aligning your assessments with the learning outcomes of your course
  • Communicating your expectations and requirements clearly to your students

More importantly, you will need to remember that online examinations are quite different from your usual face-to-face examinations. Simply converting your current face-to-face examinations into an online format can be a recipe for failure; as these online exams are not in a confined, invigilated environment. So it is important that you ask yourself the following questions when planning to conduct online assessments:

  • How do you make the assessment process meaningful to both you and your students?
  • Should the assessment be synchronous(real-time) or asynchronous (delayed), group or individual?
  • Is securing the assessment necessary? If so, at what level?
  • How do you plan to provide high quality feedback and opportunities for your students to act on feedback?

In this post, I list some online assessment options that you can use. I have also included some examples and available tools that you can consider.

Traditional assignments online
Traditional assignments can be in the form of Essays, Case studies, Article reviews, Proposal writing or Report writing. You can get students to submit the essays to you for review. Most LMS systems have either an Assignments tool or Files Submission tool with which students can submit these traditional assignments online. If you are using Microsoft Teams or the Google Classroom, you can similarly use the Assignments to upload files. Additionally, you can also use the Essay type (short answer) questions with the Quiz tool for students to submit essays.
Whatever be the tool, be transparent in the marking criteria so that students know what is expected of them, and be specific about the allocated marks, word limits. Finally, be sure to offer individualised relevant feedback and a summary of common mistakes for the entire class.

Quizzes (automated online assessment)
Online Quizzes that contain multiple-choice questions, multiple response questions, fill-in-the-blanks, true/false, and matching questions can be developed to assess students’ learning or to assess their prior knowledge. Such automated quizzes can also be embedded within video lectures or micro-lectures to test students’ learning, and these quizzes are generally referred to as in-video quizzes.

Timed online assessment
If you are considering to conduct your mid-semester exams and final exams in an online format, you can design assessments that are time-constrained. To minimise cheating in such exams, you should also consider:

  • randomisation of questions and options in your MCQs
  • personalisation of questions (e.g., numerical values are personalised for individual students; questions are selected from a large pool of questions which are of same difficulty level)
  • structure the questions in such a way that students are prevented from returning to previous question or section (sequencing your questions)
  • require students to provide a short justification (rationale) for each MCQ question (sometimes, referred to as two-tiered MCQs).

Online interaction
The Forum or Discussion tool, blogs and wikis facilitate asynchronous interaction. You can use these tools to monitor student learning via their contributions to online forums, chats, blogs and wikis. These contributions can be in the form of reading summaries, collaborative learning where students work in small groups to provide critical peer review on each other’s work.

Group assessments online 
Students can work in groups to create online presentations, project artefacts and upload their presentations for you to review or to be reviewed by peers or both.

Critical reflection and meta-cognition  
You can consider the use of electronic portfolios, online journals, logs, diaries, blogs, wikis, embedded reflective activities. For any of these, you can consider using peer and self-assessment to assess these critical reflection pieces.

Online oral examinations
One-on-one or small group oral examinations can be conducted via any video conferencing tool such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Duo. Additionally, you can also consider students to role play or participate in debates via the online video conferencing platforms to assess their learning. You can use the recording function in these tools, in case you would like to review these at a later date.

Getting students to submit assessment questions
You can get students to create and submit assessment questions online for each topic or course. An online quiz with two-part short answer/essay question can be used to get students to (1) create and input their assessment question and (2) write their explanation on what is being assessed and why it is important for student learning and how it is related to the learning outcome(s) of the topic or course. Alternatively you can get students submit their assessment questions on the forum, and conversations with peers and instructors on the strength and weakness of the assessment question via the forum.

Take-home quizzes on reading assignments
A take-home quiz for every reading assignment with one question for approximately each page of the text, with the order of the questions following the order of the pages. The test questions (stem) should be “objective” in a fairly literal sense, the answers (the options) should be quite specific; to answer a question, students should need to do little more than find the right sentence or paragraph and read it with a certain degree of understanding.
(extracted from “Tests that also teach” by Williams, 1988, In American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy)

Group multiple-choice test
When taking a multiple-choice in-class test, students could consult with their peers if they wished; but each student would finally have to complete the online assessment, and would be graded individually.
(adapted from “Better testing for better learning” by Murray, 1990 In College Teaching)

Paired testing
This assessment consists of a series of thirty-question exams of two parts each. The first set of fifteen questions is taken individually by each student (can be a timed quiz). But, the second set of fifteen questions is assigned to student teams of two. Student teams can discuss each test item but were not required. Finally, each student turns in an individual answer to the quiz.
(extracted from “Peer-mediated testing: The effects of an alternative testing procedure in higher education” by Hendrickson, J. M., Brady, M. P., and Algozzine., B., 1987, Educational and Psychological Research)

This blogpost is adapted from a resource guide on designing effective online assessments that was developed by me many years back, which I use for conducting workshops on designing online assessments at my campus.

[This post is a reproduction from my other blog on Towards Open Learning]

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