Reducing your use of high-stakes exams might be a good choice for your course if you are concerned that your students are not focusing on the authentic application of skills, are not achieving course goals by acting on your feedback, or have hardships in using online proctoring services. Multiple choice or true/false questions are a good way to assess whether students remember facts, but they are difficult (and sometimes impossible) to structure in a way that accurately assesses deeper learning, such as the ability to think critically, apply knowledge, make connections, evaluate authenticity, or use foundational skills to create something new. This can be a problem if your course goals emphasize critical thinking and deep learning but your exams do not.
Furthermore, the University of Florida has partnered with Quality Matters to provide instructors with an evidence-based rubric to help them evaluate and improve the quality of their online courses. This rubric, called UF+QM, encourages security measures such as online proctoring for high-stakes assignments. You may want to revise your assessments to maintain the course quality and integrity while avoiding online proctoring for several reasons.
- Online proctoring requires hardware that not all students may be able to access, especially at short notice in cases where a webcam unexpectedly breaks.
- Internet providers cannot guarantee an uninterrupted connection for the length of an exam, and even reliable setups (and proctoring services) can have unexpected failures that cannot be fixed in time to complete a scheduled exam. The time-bound nature of some online proctored exams adds additional barriers to student success.
- Housing situations may make it difficult to find a suitable testing location.
- Online proctoring usually requires extra fees, which may become burdensome for low-income students.
There are many reasons to reduce the need for online proctoring and for high-stakes, multiple-choice exams. Luckily, there are also plenty of options for changing your testing and assessment practices, such as modifying existing tests to be more secure, redesigning assessments to be more authentic, or combining multiple strategies for varied assessments. If you decide to make substantial changes to your assessments, as outlined in your previous syllabus, please communicate these to your department chair to see if any further action is needed to maintain curriculum alignment and accreditation (e.g., University Curriculum Committee review).
Modifying Tests and Quizzes
You will likely still utilize Canvas Quizzes in your online course, but making a few modifications can improve test security regardless of proctoring and can improve the quality of the assessments. These changes can be as simple as changing quiz settings or can be more substantive, such as changing your quiz strategy to make sure students can apply the feedback to later assessments. Remember that all tests and quizzes are housed in the Canvas Quizzes navigation, so while you may distinguish between a lower point value quiz and a higher point value test, they will all appear in the same place.
Several Canvas quiz features promote test security. Quiz settings allow an instructor to shuffle answers to questions, which adds a layer of complication to sharing answer choices with a friend. Similarly, the use of question groups will shuffle the order in which students see questions. Deliberate use of question banks with more questions than the quiz can also limit answer sharing by ensuring that no two students receive the exact same set of questions. Selecting show one question at a time eliminates the ability to share a screenshot of multiple questions at once and has the additional benefit of saving progress frequently, which benefits students with low internet connectivity who might otherwise lose their progress if their connection falters.
To prevent students from sharing quiz questions or answers after they have taken the quiz, you should update your quizzes or question banks each time you teach the course. Canvas also allows you to choose whether and when students can see correct answers and automatic feedback on their choices, so you can make sure no one is still taking a quiz after others have seen the correct answers to it. In the course settings, you can also select the restrict students from viewing courses after end date checkbox so students cannot access the course after the course end date (make sure this field has the proper date entered) to see questions and answers.
Quiz Design Principles
Focusing on incremental low-stakes quizzes instead of fewer high-stakes assessments can reduce the motivation to cheat. This also allows you the opportunity to provide feedback in time for students to improve and to connect these knowledge checks with assessments that provide opportunities for the application of knowledge. These short quizzes are a stepping stone towards in-depth assessments where students analyze content or use it to create something new. This strategy also allows your course to meet UF+QM standards 3.4 and 3.5 by having squenced and varied assignments that allow your students to track their progress incrementally.
To shift your quizzes themselves away from information recall, where questions can often be answered through a quick internet search or scan of instructional materials, and towards the application of concepts and skills, evaluate how you ask questions. Instead of asking for facts, ask students to use the facts to come to the correct conclusion. For example, a professor could eliminate a question asking students to put the steps of the scientific method in the correct order and replace it with a question where students choose the example experiment that best exemplifies the scientific method or watch an example of an experiment and identify a limitation. Making them apply the information tests a deeper level of understanding. The instructor may change their questions so much that they decide to make the exam open book, knowing that the answer won’t be found directly in their textbook.
For any time-bound activity, it is best to be prepared to offer an alternative assignment if a student cannot participate. For instance, an instructor might allow a student who has an unexpected computer malfunction or sudden illness to replace an exam grade with an in-depth essay to avoid giving the exam in less secure conditions.
Creating Authentic Assessments
Using projects that replicate a real-life task often makes it easier to align the assessment to your course goals. Additionally, increased student effort on the assignment is common when the task is clearly connected to their future career or citizenship. Furthermore, many projects include active learning where students are engaging with the content and discovering new information as the precursor to their submission. Asking them to incorporate current news articles into their work is one way this is achieved. Below are more ideas for the types of activities you could add, formats for student demonstration of their learning and tips for making it feasible.
As you consider alternative assessments, use your goals for the students as the driver for your decision. Do they need to be able to explain a concept or relationships, apply information to problem-solving, predict outcomes, complete a task, etc.?
As we all know, you get a much deeper understanding of a topic when you teach it to someone else. Thus, having your students engage in peer-to-peer teaching is an excellent activity to incorporate into your course. A topic could be divided into pieces for each student to become an expert in or they could be asked to represent different stakeholder viewpoints, such as for a debate-style assignment. Additionally, students could peer review each other's work and provide feedback, from a technical standpoint or by sharing their personal experience and perspectives on a topic.
Creative adaptation: In a course where students strategized for global operation of non-profit organizations, students read one of four biographies of non-profit stakeholders and shared their takeaways with classmates.
One of the most common approaches to authentic assessment is to frame the assignment around an actual case study or specific problem. This provides a relatable context structure with easily adjustable levels of complexity to challenge the students as appropriate based on their previous experience. This could even involve tasks such as background research, data gathering, and analysis.
Creative adaptation: In a course where students needed to discern relevant cultural context surrounding popular historical music, the assignment had students choose a decade and submit a music business plan for that era.
Another common approach and high impact best practice is to design a project around a service learning experience. By working with community organization partners they can apply concepts to a real-world setting and, contrarily, apply real-world experience to course topic analysis. This experience could be in the form of remote volunteer work but could also include virtual interviews with organizational leaders or stakeholders.
Creative adaptation: In a course where students needed to connect leadership theory and diversity representation to potential industry impacts, they conducted a gender-focused analysis of a company based on research and interviews.
As a form of documenting and sharing one’s own narrative or that of others, digital media can be a powerful way of sharing perspective and showcasing deliverables.
Creative adaptation: In a course where students connect art to health, they choose a performance and reflect on the experience from the standpoint of someone (a performer or audience member) with a medical challenge.
You can explore alternative formats for students to demonstrate learning, but, if you let your students choose the medium, the variety and creative freedom can result in an impressive display of knowledge and a refreshing grading experience. Consider or provide these options (recommendations about various tools are also provided):
- Presentations (e.g., videos, narrated PPTs, podcasts): Students can create rich media presentations using a variety of UF-provided or free tools (tutorials are linked).*
- Canvas (record directly, upload a video from a smartphone or computer)
- PowerPoint narration
- VoiceThread (Note: This is a more advanced tool where you would greatly benefit from formal training and/or instructional design consultation prior to implementation.)
- Flipgrid (Note: Signing in with the Microsoft Login should detect your UF email for institution-level account access.)
- Creations (e.g., fabricating a model or sample item, art, programming code, social media campaign, infographic, mind map): Take pictures or video of the piece if needed for a digital submission.
- Some degree programs may have identified specific tools that are important to student success in their future careers, such as programs for photo editing, statistical analysis, etc.). These professional tools may be available for free in UFApps so you can incorporate them into your assignments. Please be aware that these tools often take a significant amount of time in training and practice to use and adequate time must be afforded. Students (and faculty) can use the online LinkedIn Learning platform (formerly Lynda.com) to access video tutorials for many of these tools.
- Infographic resources: Remind students to be aware of copyright law when incorporating the work of others. Of the many free tools for templates and images available, some do a better job than others at making it clear what is public domain or how to provide proper attribution, such as Piktochart and Creative Commons Search for images.
- Mind Map resource: It may be best to go low-tech by having them submit a picture of their diagram but for a digital option we recommend Padlet.
- Papers/Writing (e.g., discussion Boards, essays, annotated bibliography, group annotation of a reading, letter to a public figure, student-designed quiz questions)
- Turnitin: When having students submit written work, it is best practice to enable the Plagiarism Review feature, via Turnitin, in the Assignment settings. While Turnitin is a very helpful tool in plagiarism detection, the similarity percentage alone cannot be used for identifying plagiarism — the similarity report should be reviewed to determine if flagged material (indicating a match to other work) has been properly cited. Additionally, the settings should be adjusted for draft paper submissions to be excluded from the student repository so subsequent versions won’t flag as highly similar with the report showing large amounts of self-plagiarism.
- UF Writing Studio: Make sure your students know that they can receive free, individual tutoring online including for their writing projects via the UF Writing Studio.
Tips for Manageability
We know that grading a lot of assignments and providing high quality feedback is a huge time investment that may not feel achievable with your workload. First and foremost, please know that UFIT is here to assist you in all aspects of course design. You can get advice and guidance on a new assessment approach by scheduling a consultation with an instructional designer in the UFIT Center for Instructional Technology and Training.
Additionally, there are a few strategies that you can use to make it work for you. Many people feel the most pressure at the end of the semester to get major assignments graded for final grade calculation and submission. By breaking down a large assignment into smaller components that are due throughout the semester you can distribute the review time. Focus your comments on the primary areas of strength and weakness, being specific with corrective actions. Furthermore, you can use peer review and guided self-review to improve the quality of work, which makes grading faster.
You can also capitalize on the features of Canvas to make grading and feedback easier:
- Create rubrics (for students to see the grading criteria ahead of time and to simplify your evaluation)
- Record your feedback instead of typing it
- Provide automated quiz question feedback
- Auto-assign peer reviews or auto-divide students into small discussion groups for feedback
- Send individual messages at once to a group of students who performed similarly (e.g., scored less than, more than, haven’t submitted).