Home » 2020 Fall » Alternative assessments

Alternative assessments

At this meeting, we discussed several types of alternative assessments for fully online learning, meaning assessments other than traditional exams. Participants contributed ideas based on our experiences, and brainstormed best practices.

Participants agreed that proctoring software is likely not the best approach, for the following reasons:

  • Students have the option to refuse
  • Students can easily find ways to use a second device even if proctored (e.g., their phone)
  • Online proctoring feels invasive and somewhat antagonistic, which is not the type of relationship we want to cultivate with our students

Here are the ideas we discussed:

Writing assignments

  • Prompts that require students to connect course concepts to their own experiences or to current events
  • Narrative or storytelling prompt, with a list of key terms to be included
  • Analysis/interpretation of original data
  • Case study analysis
  • Reconcile two opposing viewpoints (provide sources with differing viewpoints)
  • Tips to make grading writing assignments easier
    • Keep track of common misconceptions and provide feedback once for the whole class
    • Create (and share with colleagues) rubrics (click-and-grade option/)
    • Save a document with your feedback for common errors and misconceptions, so you can copy and paste as appropriate
    • Post video responses (individually or for the whole class)
    • Post a “wrap-up” announcement after each assignment

Lab reports

  • Analysis of data, creating graphs or charts, tables, Venn diagrams, etc.
  • Interactive websites, such as those that use student’s individual input to calculate an individual carbon footprint (students could then list 5 ways to reduce it, or complete a personal nutritional analysis and list 5 ways to improve it
  • Citizen science applications such as those for which students submit personal observations (such as iNaturalist) and/or look up data for particular locations (which could be unique to each student to reduce plagiarism)
  • Online interactive activities that require generation of data and variables that can be manipulated, so that each student’s input is slightly different
  • Tips to make grading lab reports easier:
    • Interactive websites that require answering questions in order to get to the end—have students submit a screenshot of the last screen to verify completion. Our group has generated a lengthy list of websites with virtual lab activities, as well as best practices for online labs on our Academic Commons webpage (see Spring 2020 notes).
    • Use charts, tables, and graphs, which are quicker to grade than written answers


  • Choose prompts with more than one “correct” response, or have students contrast two opposing views
  • Consider dividing students into smaller groups for discussions, rather than whole-class discussions
  • Discussion prompts that connect course concepts to personal experiences or current events
  • Have students propose hypotheses or experimental designs and then “add value” to each other’s hypotheses (in other words, suggest s way to improve the hypothesis or experimental design)
  • Have students find someone they disagree with and explain why in their response
  • Provide model posts and responses so students know what constitutes a “good” or “excellent” discussion post
  • Have students create video posts
  • Divide tasks and assign roles to students in each group (1st poster, question, answer the question, etc)
  • Blackboard can be unwieldy for reading and responding to posts (both for students and faculty)—consider alternatives such as padlet (com).

Online exams

  • Since these are necessarily “open-book,” consider some of the following ways to create exams that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned rather than what they can look up
  • Ask “What is the most interesting thing you have learned about _____________?”
  • Use a graph or other image that you have generated yourself, and ask questions about it
  • Instead of releasing answer keys, require students to email you if they want to know why they lost points on any particular question
  • Use multiple answer questions (“choose all that apply”)
  • Create test pools, and set up exam so that each students receives a random subset of equivalent exam questions (these can be grouped into blocks by topic)
  • If exams are multiple choice, set time limits that minimize opportunity to look up answers
  • Write the learning objective(s) and then ask students to list what they learned that best illustrates each concept
  • Consider using audio or video assignments or exams so students must explain their answers or their thinking orally

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *