April 13, 2020

What Could Evaluation Look like for your Suddenly-Online Course? Part 2 – Non Traditional Assessments

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

In creating an evaluation the first thing that comes to mind are exams or term papers. With having to move your course online, maybe you have realised that what worked for you face-to-face is not the best method of assessing students at a distance.

In the first article I talked about keeping your more traditional evaluations unchanged when possible. In this article I will deal with having to rethink your assessments to take various formats (labs, discussions, other non-traditional forms of assessments) into account.

Going online? Rethink your evaluations

It is a natural impulse nowadays to find information by ‘Googling’ it and to hash over problems by chatting with friends online. So why not take advantage of this and prepare assessments that require application of concepts and creativity rather than repetition of definitions? Leave behind the idea that assessment requires a Word document. Use inventive and uncommon assessment strategies or turn to project-based assessment that requires media. You can even allow the students to choose their medium to present their work:

  • video
  • podcasts
  • digital storytelling
  • concept mapping tools

If you had several multiple-choice exams that you now cannot invigilate, why not change them into a take home exam? This document produced by Ryerson University helps you create Take home exams. Yes! Students are free to access resources. However, rather than merely finding the answer in their textbook students are asked to demonstrate higher-order cognitive skills like analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, for instance:

  • Students must explain why the answer they chose to a multiple-choice question is correct, or why the alternative answers are wrong.
  • Given a list of specific terms, students must use the terms in a paragraph that demonstrates that they understand the terms and their interconnections.

If you had some laboratories planned ask students to:

  • Design a lab for a specific purpose
  • Describe how they would carry out a particular test. What equipment, controls, precautions must be considered?
  • Explain how they would test a hypothesis
  • Provide possible reasons for particular outcomes
  • Give them a solution with a mistake in it, and ask them to find the mistake and fix it

Authentic assessments: focused forays into real-life

Have students:

  • Write a grant proposal
  • Present their work to the teacher and to an expert in the field of study through a live synchronous session. (As many businesses are closed due to Covid-19, many “experts” may agree to volunteer some time)
  • Design a database for real or fictional clients
  • Create labels or short videos that could be used to interpret an exhibit in a museum
  • Research organizational problems in small local businesses and make recommendations for solutions

Teachers in disciplines like English, Humanities, Physical Education, Philosophy, Political Science (and many others) often wonder if it is possible to develop authentic assessments for their discipline. SALTISE shares some ideas for these disciplines suggested by James Sparks.

Reflection and self-assessment

Reflection and self-assessment can become components of your assessment. To guide this self-assessment provide personal reflection questions:

  • In which degree have I realized…?
  • At what moment did I feel most engaged?
  • Which information did I find most affirming and helpful?
  • Which information did I find most puzzling or confusing and do I need to study again?
  • What was the most challenging part of the chapter for me to grasp?
  • How could the reading material apply to my professional practice?

Peer review can also be helpful. Here are detailed instructions on how to use mapsmind to create an activity for students to peer review each other’s work and to receive feedback before submitting their project for assessment. This ‘gallery walk’ activity can easily be adapted to work online.

Case studies

Case studies can be based on topics that present theoretical concepts from your course in an applied setting. It is an ideal assessment tool to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Real-life situations can be easily converted into learning activities in your course.

  1. Outline a a real-world problem or situation.
  2. Remove the ending.
  3. Ask online learners to think of different solutions.
  4. Ask them to explain why they chose a specific solution and how they could have chosen alternate paths to establish the same ending.

SALTISE offers 27 ready made case studies for a range of college level courses:

  • nursing
  • history
  • biology
  • environmental studies
  • applied arts
  • etc.

New approaches to discussion boards or forums

Discussion forums are a way of replicating discussions in face-to-face classrooms. They are a means to foster learning through collaboration. Online teachers post professional information to help colleagues and students could also participate in valuable learner conversations. Some advantages are:

  • Available in most college learning management systems (LMS) like Omnivox or Moodle.
  • Instructors can provide just-in-time feedback.

Discussion boards can be set up as summative assessment activities. Some ideas of criteria to evaluate discussions:

 The student

  • includes and applies relevant course content correctly
  • responds to peers, relating the discussion to relevant course concepts and providing substantive feedback
  • applies relevant professional or other experiences
  • supports contribution with appropriate resources

Of course to avoid boredom and possible plagiarism, discussion boards should do more than just requiring students to answer a discussion post inspired by that week’s reading. Charles Hodges, a professor of instructional technology suggests decreasing the number of posts but requiring students respond to discussion prompts, in addition to written text, with:

  • PowerPoint presentations
  • YouTube videos
  • concept maps

The students have a period of time to produce their response. Then they evaluate their work using prompts like “Compare your concept map to the rest of the class. What’s missing? What’s different?”

Flipgrid: A Video-Based Discussion Forum could be of interest to second or foreign language teachers as students are asked to post video (oral) responses to discussion prompts (topics). Students listen to peers videos before responding.

Thinking outside the box

To help you think outside the box in developing assessments, here are some samples of rather creative alternatives:

  • In a course called Prediction, Probability and Pigskin a professor coaches students in statistics using fantasy football. The assessment consists in students acting as fantasy football bloggers who have to give expert predictions. Students are graded on the quality of their critical analyses.
  • For a cognitive psychology course, students collaboratively produced videos using the format of a 60-second public service announcement aimed at helping people avoid making bad decisions. This evaluation activity required understanding and application of the various strategies people employ when making a decision.
  • Another teacher asked students to critically evaluate free online nutrition and fitness tools and explain which they’d recommend and why based on what they’ve learned in class.

Caring is sharing

Why not share your creative assessments and help inspire your colleagues? Please leave a comment if you have any tips or examples or join our Facebook group, College pedagogy and technology.

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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