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Teaching Tuesdays: Remote Assessment Strategies

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our ongoing series on pedagogy in higher ed and on the RU-N campus. Today’s entry was developed in collaboration with Joy McDonald, Joseph Mathew, and Robert Medaska of RU-N's Academic Technology Services (ATS).

Online teaching offers unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to assessing student learning. On the one hand, most learning management systems (e.g., Canvas and Blackboard, incorporate testing and grading features that can improve the efficiency of both processes. On the other, many traditional types of assessment, such as closed-book proctored exams, are difficult to replicate in highly variant at-home testing environments. This entry outlines a few recommended remote assessment strategies, the technologies available to support them, as well as best practices for test-giving and test-taking online.

This series has already discussed how to align digital assessments to course learning goals. Alignment should be at the heart of any course’s assessment plan. Research suggests that application of knowledge is the most important component of cognitive retention; that is, only after being asked to retrieve and/or use new information (preferably multiple times in multiple ways) do students commit it to long-term memory. Therefore, instructors should think of assessment not only as a means to determine grades, but as critical part of the learning process itself.

We highly recommend, in all teaching environments, that faculty forego a high-stakes assessment plan (one in which students’ grades are based on a small number of data points and each major assignment/test carries a critical percentage of students’ final scores) for a strategy favoring frequent low-stakes assessments. A more diffuse assessment plan can look like a series of quizzes, graded discussion posts or student presentations, breaking major course assignments (like term papers) into smaller graded components, or a combination of all of those tactics. This strategy additional provides students with additional points of feedback, which, as research shows, bears a strong correlation to academic growth. Devising an assessment plan that includes frequent and varied means of knowledge application will improve student outcomes and support learning equity in your classroom.

In order to support your assessment strategy, instructors should familiarize themselves with the various options for administering and scoring assignments within their chosen LMS. Some key training resources are included below, and RU-N faculty are encouraged to contact ATS staff to answer specific questions about their LMS’s capabilities, including:

  • How to adjust testing specifications for ODS compliance

  • Questions about grade and feedback visibility

  • How to use administer timed quizzes/tests online

  • How to randomize test questions

  • Concerns over academic integrity in at-home testing environments (See also, our previous Teaching Tuesday post on this topic.)

Instructors must also clearly communicate with their students about testing expectations as well as technological and logistical requirements. Specifically, instructors should:

  • Remind students to submit their Letters of Accommodations ASAP in order to allow time to adjust testing specifications when/where necessary.

  • Provide exam types, date and time, proctoring requirements in their syllabus and/or LMS syllabus module.

  • If proctoring is required for course exams, it should be noted in the Schedule of Classes prior to student registration.

  • If a synchronous exam (or meeting) is required for an asynchronous course, it should be noted in the Schedule of Classes prior to student registration.

  • Indicate details such as time and number of questions prior to exam.

  • Allow students to see instructions before starting exam.

  • If an exam timer is being used, stress that timer runs from the time the exam is first opened and continues to run even if the students exit the exam.

  • If proctoring is being used, stress that students must have a quiet and private space to take the exam.

  • Have exam information centralized in one location, e.g. an “Exams” module on your LMS, or consistently positioned within your course shell, e.g. weekly quizzes posted at the end on every subject-level module.

  • Remind students to monitor the functionality of their devices throughout the semester and, in particular, prior to a course assessment. Routine maintenance should include cache cleaning, scanning and defragmenting disks, and checking WIFI speed. (Try!) Students should always restart their computers or devices prior to a test.

  • Provide Help Desk contact information, in the event a student requires technical assistance during a timed assessment activity.

Most critically, instructors should ALWAYS administer an ungraded practice test/assignment prior to scoring a new type of assessment. Something as simple as having students answer one Y/N quiz question or successfully sign in and post “hello” to a third-party tool can dramatically reduce the amount of troubleshooting required in later higher-stress scenarios.

With preparation, communication, and an assessment plan that mirrors the learning goals of your course, online assessment can not only be functional and efficient but also creative and rewarding.

Resources and References:

Collaborator Biographies:

Joy McDonald is the Director of Academic Technology Services at Rutgers-Newark. Joe Mathew and Rob Medaska are both instructional designers and technology specialists at ATS.