A short guide to online assessment practices| LE Campus Learn, Share, Connect


With the many changes to the way we deliver education in recent years, most academics now need to be comfortable working online. One area that has caused more consternation than most is assessment, with many discussions going on about how best to test and assess students digitally. When considering adapting your face-to-face assessment to an online environment, there are many factors to consider. Here we present some of our key recommendations when adopting new assessment strategies.

If possible, replace exams

What comes to mind when you think of evaluation? Generally, these are exams.

Although exams have always been an effective assessment instrument, the digital environment requires new strategies, mainly due to the difficulty of controlling and supervising students when an exam is applied.

Some alternatives to consider are:

Performance demonstration

If your students need to master a procedure or skill, i.e. be able to do something, consider asking them to demonstrate it via a video where you can see them in action. For closed exams that include problem solving, consider asking for a photo of the work process the student used to find the answer.

Integration activities

Define activities such as projects, case studies, or reports that challenge students to demonstrate their learning through the application of knowledge rather than simply retrieving it.

However, while the general recommendation when working online is to replace exams wherever possible, it is also clear that exams remain essential for certain disciplines, especially those where it is necessary to ensure that the student is able to memorize and retrieve specific concepts (eg, in health disciplines) or master digital operations (in some engineering or business disciplines).

Ideas for evaluation design

Focus on what you are going to evaluate, not resources. Avoid questions containing textual information from a book or excerpts from other resources (How is economics defined by author X? What are the five essential symptoms of depression mentioned in video X). Try to start from what you want to assess and, based on that, paraphrase the definitions or present the issues.

Redistribute the share of quality. Reduce the weight of exams in the final grade and give greater value to other tasks or activities that also contribute to demonstrating student learning (projects, reports or case analysis, among others).

Include open-ended questions. Incorporating open-ended questions into online exams can be very helpful, as they demand broad, deep, and meaningful answers. Try to avoid questions that simply require recalling factual information and favor explanations (how), reasons (why), opinions and arguments.

Include application questions. Questions that require reflection and application of knowledge are also helpful. Examples include:

  1. Decision making: provide a scenario or case that requires the student to choose or explain what they would do based on what was studied in the course
  2. Analysis of errors: provide the description of a situation accompanied by its resolution, the application of a methodology or an argument and ask the student to identify the errors
  3. Problem Solving: Provide a scenario or situation involving a bad decision or mistake that will lead to a problem. Next, include three multiple-choice questions: the first to identify the problem, the second to deduce the consequences, and the third to choose the solution.

Ideas for implementing the evaluation

Use monitoring programs. If exams are needed, monitoring tools such as Respondus, ProctorU, and RPNow are options to consider.

Complete with an interview. Complement assessment with interviews in which you ask students questions related to their learning of a topic or their participation/performance in a project or activity.

Complete with meta-knowledge activities. Supplement assessments with an activity in which students identify their learning and areas of opportunity (e.g., what they did not know before but are doing now; what they can do now and/or what could be improved ). These activities have options in terms of delivery format (essay, presentation, video, animation, comic).

As you can see, some of the alternative learning assessment strategies include many practices you’re probably already familiar with, so it’s often a matter of being willing to let go of familiar ways to try new ones. Asking what would be a good way to know if our students have achieved a specific learning goal is an effective starting point for designing new ways to assess learning in an online environment.

Graciela González-Valdepeña is a Solution Design Leader, Adriana Plata-Marroquín is an Educational Innovation Leader, and Gabriela Sánchez-Castillo is a Learning Architect, all at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico .

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