Assessing learning

Whether you are teaching in an online, in-person, or hybrid learning environment, student learning outcomes inform decisions about which form(s) of assessment is best suited for your course. Alignment of outcomes and assessments requires purposeful attention each time you modify a course, the demands of rapidly shifting to an online learning format may not allow time to make substantial changes. This page contains suggestions and resources to modify your current forms of assessment, given our current teaching and learning circumstances, with an emphasis on exams, group papers/projects, and Canvas support.

Note: If you are seeking guidance on the creation of assessments for new or substantively revised courses, see the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning’s page on writing and assessing learning outcomes.

Alternative assessments

Why might you want to replace a final objective exam? The reasons can range from practical to pedagogical and may include threats to academic integrity, disparities in students’ access to technology, or discovery of better ways to assess learning. If you typically administer an objective final exam, one way to replace it is with a combination of the suggestions listed in Modifying Objective Exams. Another way is to replace it with a paper or project. Asking students to produce a piece of writing or other media means that each artifact will be unique. Students will also likely deepen their understanding of the subject because they will have to use higher-order thinking to synthesize the content. If you would like to turn your exams into smaller assignments to be completed across the semester, refer to the guidance on Assignments and Facilitating Activities.

Whatever you choose, ensure your syllabus provides the most up-to-date and accurate information articulating how students will be assessed including point values of papers and projects.

Depending on the specifications of your assessment(s), you will collect student work/responses via Canvas Assignments or Canvas Quizzes. Refer to the guidance on choosing between Quizzes and Assignments.

Exam scoring and feedback

  • Certain Quiz items will be automatically graded by Canvas: multiple-choice, true/false, fill in the blank, multiple answers, matching, numeric answer, and formula question. 
  • Essay and file upload items will require manual grading via SpeedGrader.
  • Be sure to "Post grades" for the exam once you have completed the scoring of all open-ended items. Scores and feedback will not be available to students until you manually post grades (Canvas article).

Note: If you are creating an exam via Canvas, be sure to select "Classic Quizzes" in the + Quiz pop-up window. 

If you believe your exam requires test proctoring, review the current limitations and procedures for setting up a proctored exam with Examity.

Considerations for papers and projects

If you are using a paper or project for the summative course assessment (or in addition to an objective exam), review the following considerations:

  • Asynchronous group work can be difficult for students to coordinate. In addition to the guidance in this list, review the section of considerations for group projects that follows.
  • If presentation –  should be conducted synchronously online via Zoom, or recorded asynchronously via Kaltura and submitted to a Canvas assignment. 
  • Student hardware/software may be limited – use as little technology as required to meet the outcomes AND ensure it is accessible for all students.
  • Make the project transparent by defining a clear: (1) purpose linked to course outcomes, (2) task and procedure for completion, and (3) criteria for scoring – provide a rubric if possible.
  • All technical guides for required technology should be provided to students in the project instructions. Do not assume students know how to use a particular tool or know which tools are needed to complete the project.
  • Scaffold experience by providing assignments and feedback across the semester that build up to the final paper or project. See Assignments and Facilitation Activities for additional guidance.

Considerations for group projects

Group projects may pose particular challenges during our current teaching and learning situations. To ensure the success of group projects, consider the following:

  • Ensure the collaboration aspect of the group project is critical to the course learning outcomes before proceeding - if it's not, turn it into an individual project
  • Allow students to self-organize groups based on their availability
  • Monitor group progress (recorded Zoom meetings, meeting minutes, synchronous check-in with instructor)
  • For personalized advice, schedule a consultation with your local teaching center.

Objective exams

If an objective exam is the best way to assess your course’s learning outcomes, there are a number of ways to discourage academic misconduct that can occur in online testing environments without relying on an external proctoring service. The costs associated with such services, technical and practical restrictions for students, and overall increased stress around test-taking are sufficient reasons to modify or replace some or all parts of an exam with alternative forms of assessment. Small but impactful modifications to your current exams can lead to more meaningful assessment of student learning while maintaining the rigor and integrity of your course.

Refer to the Conduct Exams via Canvas article in the IU Knowledge Base for recommended guidance to improving test security and use Canvas to create and administer exams/quizzes. If you have a student who requires additional time, you can provide extended time in Quiz Moderation.

Modifying objective exams

While you may decide to make changes to the content and delivery of your exams for a specific reason, such as, to improve test security, you will likely discover that the changes you make improve other aspects of your course as well, such as student learning, mastery of content, and performance on other assignments. Some modifications are as follows:

  • Break down the content of an exam into smaller components that become quizzes that occur frequently throughout the semester.
  • Organize and sequence quizzes to parallel fundamental course concepts and related vocabulary as they are delivered through readings, lectures, and learning activities.
  • Use standard objective questions (multiple-choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank, and matching) in frequent, low-stakes quizzes to test for less complex learning outcomes, such as identify, define, and recognize.
  • Use short answer essay prompts or other open-ended questions to test for higher order thinking, such as compare/contrast, apply, and predict. This will require that you identify and name the core concepts in your course, connect them to specific learning outcomes, and provide ample learning opportunities for students to practice and eventually master them. Consider allowing students to use an open-note, open-book format to respond to these types of questions, where the answers require synthesis of learned material and generation of new knowledge. Simple rubrics and Canvas SpeedGrader (Canvas article) can help make grading less time-consuming and more reliable among different graders.
  • Given sufficient time, consider developing a larger pool of test items in order to create equivalent versions of the same exam content.