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Assessment Options for Online Learning

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The need to accommodate remote learning doesn't ruin good assessments. Create meaningful culminating experiences that demonstrate student learning far better than a traditional comprehensive exam.

Culminating Assessments vs. Comprehensive Final Exams

Traditionally, semester “final exams” as comprehensive tests have been a normal method of assessing student achievement in a course. However, providing culminating experiences that “afford students an opportunity to review, synthesize, and demonstrate an understanding of a course as a unified whole” (See Final Examination Policy) is considered best practice and encouraged by our administration.  

A well-planned culminating experience as a final exam will help point students to further apply their knowledge as they move on from your class. Culminating experiences should focus on the most important outcomes of the class and, where appropriate, the corresponding outcomes of the major program.  

The type of culminating experience you choose should be a relevant activity for the students and one that they can complete within the specified exam time according the Final Examination Schedule (See Final Examination Policy). In addition to multiple choice exams, we have listed some enriching alternative assessment-of-student-learning activities that you may consider instead. 

Click on the links for further information about designing, implementing, and grading culminating experiences for your students during finals. 

Click here to review BYU’s Final Exam Policy.

Oral Examination

This type of culminating experience is designed as either a one-on-one interview or a small group interview to assess how each student has applied his or her learning during the course. In addition, the oral examination can be used to encourage students to articulate important aspects of their learning that will help to promote future learning. This type of assessment activity is especially beneficial in courses that are prerequisites or bridges to future courses and additional learning in certain majors.

Take-Home or Open-Book Examination

A well-constructed take-home exam can be an effective culminating experience for students. This type of assessment could have students demonstrate analysis, problem solving, and other critical-thinking skills. The benefit of the “take-home” environment is that the students will be free to perform high-level tasks while having access to their notes, readings, and other tools that would not be available if the exam were given on campus. Instructors often hesitate to use this assessment method because some students may not do their own work or may unfairly collaborate with one another.

To offset the risk of cheating, many instructors have the exam administered in the Testing Center as an “open-book” exam with limited access to textbooks and other resources. Another way to prevent cheating is to hand out different problems to each student. If this method is used, great care must be taken to ensure that the different questions address the same content in the course, and that a problem given to one student is just as challenging as the problem given to another.

Portfolio Review

A portfolio review is a great culminating experience in a course where students have prepared a body of work that can be critically examined. For this assessment, students put forth and display their best work for the course and receive feedback from the instructor (and potentially each other). These portfolios may be presented virtually over a website or set up at a central location such as the classroom. Feedback from the instructor should be based on all that the students have learned during the course and should also point the students toward further learning and experience.

Grading of portfolios is generally done via a predetermined rubric that students should know before they submit their work.

Juried Performance

Juried performances are effective in assessing skills where technique, timing, and quality of work are amalgamated and similarly important. These skills include music performance, dance, acting, sports, etc. In addition, other time-critical skills such as performing medical procedures, and surveying and determining boundaries of a plot of ground can be evaluated by a jury of observers. The jury approach is beneficial because more than one person is able to witness the student performing the skill that is being assessed. Each person on the jury can witness and focus on specific components of the student’s performance and thereby give more detailed and specialized feedback to the student.

Juried performances are graded by combining the scores from the judges for each performance criterion. If some criteria are more important than others, they may be weighted accordingly.

Poster Presentations of a Significant Project or Research Paper

Poster presentations are similar to portfolio reviews except that they are usually focused on a single project or research effort. The poster presentation is another way for students to pull together the critical components of their research or project and present it in a more formal setting, such as what they would find at a professional conference. As the posters are displayed, the students can participate in learning from and evaluating each other’s work. Feedback from instructors and from fellow students will help individual students learn and move forward in their skills in the course domain and in their ability to create succinct presentations.

Grading strategies for poster presentations include the instructor score according to a predetermined rubric. Scores from student-peers may also be included.

Group Presentations of Project or Research Work

Group presentations can be poster-based or oral presentations. These opportunities enable students to articulate the main points of their work and to describe what tasks they performed, problems they encountered, and results they achieved. This type of assessment is beneficial in reinforcing the importance of the group project and in enabling students to more deeply appreciate the tasks they have accomplished and how they relate to the outcomes of the course. Group presentations not only help students develop their skills in the domain of the course, but they also help students develop critical skills that can be used in professional careers.

Grading strategies for project or research work include the score from the instructor according to a predetermined rubric. In addition, scores from student-peers may be considered.

Final Class Meeting

(to discuss global aspects of the content, perhaps with an invited expert speaker)

This type of activity is especially beneficial for classes where students are expected to move on to further learning. This activity is largely reflective for both the instructor and the students. As such, many instructors find it difficult to establish student scores or provide grades for an activity that doesn’t readily provide student performance data.

Applying grades to a final class meeting presents a challenge to many instructors who are more accustomed to traditional assessments with right/wrong answers and quantitative scoring. Many instructors who hold final class meetings give participation scores to students, require students to prepare and ask reflective questions, or have students write a short reflective summary of the final class meeting. The strength of this assessment is that it allows students to think and internally process the important aspects of the course. This event allows the instructor one more opportunity to sum up the class in a reflective way in order to communicate to students his or her passion, excitement, and reverence for the subject.

Reflective-Essay Opportunity

(for students to articulate what they will take away from the class, or how achieving the course outcomes has helped further their learning or professional expertise)

The outcome of this type of assessment is similar to the final class meeting, except that it is driven by the thoughts of the students. As students are prompted to write their feelings on what they have learned, they will come to realize the degree to which they applied themselves to their learning in the course. They will also be able to communicate how they feel this learning has impacted their lives.

Reflective essays are usually graded on the level of thought and clarity of the presentation of ideas. If students learn in advance what they will be asked to do for this essay, they will generally come prepared to express their thoughts.

Additional Information

For more information, please contact Bryan Bradley or your Teaching and Learning Consultant.