Alternative assessments can be used in place of traditional high-stake midterms and final exams. An alternative assessment is an authentic assessment measure which applies proficiency in a specific subject. Non-traditional assessments can boost a students’ motivation compared to traditional midterms and final exams. Examples of alternative assessments include portfolios, project work, web page or video, newspaper articles, policy memorandum, podcast, concept maps, infographics, poster sessions, and reflective journaling.
Advantages of Alternative Assessments
- A means to assess valued skills that cannot be directly assessed with traditional exams,
- A method of creating a more realistic environment for student performance than traditional exams,
- To focus on student performance and the quality of work performed by students, and
- The ability to align with the established learning outcomes in a course.1
Canvas Assignment Tool
- Case Study23
- Strength: Students engage in deciphering course material principles and honing problem solving, decision making, and quantitative and/or qualitative analytical skills. Students retain more course material through active case study learning.
- Weakness: There are associated time costs from faculty preparing the content and students attempting to master the content.
- Reflection: This activity can be performed in the forms of discussion boards, informal interviews where students questions each other on the material covered in a week, specific questions regarding a covered topic, documenting course topics through journaling and requiring students to reread content to compare what was learned before the weekly course topic and at the end of the course topic.
- Strength: Reflective dialogue and writing can enhance the comprehension of course concepts, principles and key topics in each course cycle (e.g. weekly or bi-weekly). The act of reflection creates insight for a specific topic and fosters scaffolded learning. The activity can be done individually or in small groups.
- Weakness: The actively requires the student be more involved in their learning through self-awareness. Faculty should model the reflective learning practice to help students master the concept – especially for students that are unfamiliar with it.
- Essays/Short answers: This activity allows students to create their own answer in response to a prompt.
- Strengths: An essay or short answer response helps students hone their writing, critical thinking and research skills.
- Weakness: This type of activity requires an instructor or teaching assistant to physically grade and provide feedback to each student. That activity could create additional work when compared to machine grading (e.g. true/false, multiple choice, etc.).
- Concept Maps with visual and written explanation of how key concepts connect together and the learners understanding
- Strength: Concept mapping helps students grasp the material by identifying relationships between ideas, concepts and terminology.
- Weakness: Evaluation requires additional time for an instructor to review, grade and provide feedback. A consistent objective rubric is required to equity grade assignments.
- 5-minute Podcast with explanation on a key course concept (can also be posted to a discussion board and other learners need to respond)
- Strengths: Podcasting allows student to improve active listening skills, encourages creative expression and supporting qualitative and quantitative research skills. Podcasts are good for providing information “on the go” without the need of visuals for narrative flow. A podcast can be created individually or with a small team. Classrooms benefit from podcast because students can discuss various topics on a specific lesson – more content delivered with different perspectives.
- Weakness: Complex subjects may not be fully captured without the assistance of visual representations. Disengaged students will not benefit from the content as they may not actively participate. Students may provide excessive converge or dialogue on a topic that becomes distracting to the audience.
- Minute Paper (quick half paper answer to “What is the most important point you learned?”, “What concept remains the least clear to you?”)
- Strength: The concept provides quick real-time feedback about a course topics, lecture or activity from the perspective of the student. This activity can be used by the instructor to clarify unclear concepts, ideas and discussions in the following session or by course announcement. It keeps the course momentum going, by ensuring students are not missing key course concepts.
- Weakness: The students may not be truthful about what was unclear or what they felt was important for various reason (e.g. embarrassed, afraid to hurt instructor’s feelings, disengaged, etc.). The instructor may not fully embrace the feedback or take the time to revisit unclear concepts, ideas, or discussions. Students may feel unheard if the instructor does not revisit deficit areas.
- Memory matrix4 – An example of a memory matrix is the creation of a jigsaw research project among students. The concept is for students to research a specific subject area and work with classmates to complete the entire “puzzle" of information. Reciprocal teaching is a main engagement activity that students encounter with a reliance on transference of information.5
- Poster session – This is a tool used to create a visualization of textbook material, lectures and homework assignments. A poster represents course learning objectives and discusses research material in a visual format.6
- Chain Notes (Each student must a short response with notes from that week and other learners need to respond adding to or clarifying notes- works great to help learners' study)
- Strength: The process allows the learning to be reflective, evaluative and active commentators. Students can understand what their other peers are thinking and feeling based on the posed question/topic.
- Weakness: Students who are not fully engaged may not provide meaningful ideas to contribute to the posed question/topic.
- Directed Paraphrasing (students post a short response written in layman’s terms of a key concept that week to assess their comprehension of the concept)
- Strength: Students are provided the opportunity to summarize ore restate what they have already learned. It allows the student to focus on key concepts and/or key vocabulary geared in the lesson and allows real-work application in the classroom to mimic a student working in their respective field.
- Weakness: If the students have not read the content, then they are not well versed in the content and cannot provide enough information to solicit a direct paraphrase on the content.
- Student-generated test questions (Students perform course research and conduct reflective practice to develop exam questions to gauge the student’s understanding of material as they evaluate course topics.7 Students post one or two multiple choice, short answer, or other type test questions to a discussion forum. Peers respond to two posted questions providing an answer and citation.)
- Strength: This activity allows students to fully engage and actively participate in the learning process. Students take the initiative to create exam content. The role of the instructor is to ensure the questions drafted by students provide an appropriate rigor matched in the content learned.
- Weakness: The professor will need to review and modify student-generated test questions to prevent a student from memorizing the answers for a quiz/exam.
- Infographic- students create infographic using a free tool (such as Canva) of weekly concepts, students post PNG or JPEG of image in a discussion forum, other learners reply with meaningful response or critique of infographic
- Strength: Infographic assessments allow students to work collaboratively, and fosters innovative, creative, organized, and strategic student deliverables.
- Weakness: An issue is when a team member does not agree up on a shared vision. Teams may operate impaired and unable to complete tasks as a result of conflicting visions.
- Traditional quiz questions with short answer box after each question for students to justify their answers. While the quiz questions would be auto-graded, the short answer justifications would not be auto-graded. However, these could be worth zero points but still required.
- Strength: Students are most familiar with this type and format of assessment.
- Weakness: Traditional quiz questions often leave students wondering which content to student and how best to study the content. This format creates student anxiety and stress. It requires instructors to spend more time grading each short answer response. Instructors need to create a clear and well-defined grading rubric to avoid subjectivity in their grades and feedback.
- Larger exams segmented into smaller quizzes with randomized questions, shuffled answers, one question at a time, and timed to prevent cheating
- Strength: A formative or summative assessment can be used to gauge a student’s knowledge. Questions can be shuffled to provide separate quizzes to students.
- Weakness: Creates test anxiety and stress for students. This method of assessment creates uncertainty for students regarding what content to study and how best to study for it.
- Short answer questions
- Strength: This type of learning activity provides students the opportunity to memorize important details about a specific topic.
- Weakness: It creates a superficial experience where student learning is surface level. Students do not hone their writing, critical thinking and research skills.
GoReact is an external tool to Canvas that is integrated as a submission type in Canvas assignment. It is recommended to provide a practice assignment for students using any new external tools prior to assigning work counted towards grading. One limitation to paired or group assignments is students must be able to join a recording session at the same time.
- Individual Presentations
- Strength: Helps the student produce an understanding of the content learned. Requires students to practice oral presentation skills. The activity allows real-world application on how a student can become a subject matter expert by researching and debriefing with classmates.
- Weakness: It can create student anxiety to speak and be recorded in front of others or know that the content will be shared with the class. Students may have little to no guidance and must rely on the course syllabus as a guidance tool to make adequate progress towards the outcome of the presentations.
- Group Presentations
- Strength: Allows students to be innovative, creative and work collaboratively. The group dynamics are driven by task assignment and completion guidelines. Each member is fully engaged and actively participating.
- Weakness: Groups can become unfocused and non-tasked oriented. This creates an unbalanced workload for some team members as the presentation is completed.
- Strength: Students learn to argue both sides of an issue and take a stance. Presentations are researched by students to determine full breadth and depth of the issue. This activity fosters reflection and research methods.
- Weakness: Students are not given enough time to research the issue or they do not fully understand debate guidelines. Formal debate is conducted in a closed space which may limit instructor options.
- Role Play
- Strength: This activity allows students to explore realistic situations by interacting with course peers. A real-world scenario is created that allows students to experience a future role in their chosen profession. Students can record themselves on video to watch and make modifications in future scenarios. Instructors would require that student record themselves to provide feedback.
- Weakness: A student may not fully engage or take the activity seriously. Students may feel embarrassed by the role play activity or be unsure of their specific role.
Several universities across the US have implemented alternative assessments in lieu of high-stake midterms and final exams. The alternatives focus on testing a student’s core knowledge and concept of the course’s learning objectives and real-world application along with tangible transferable skills such as collaboration and teamwork. Alternative assessments like jigsaw create a learning environment by allowing students to focus on a specific subject and complete the “puzzle” by working collaboratively with other students. Through that activity individual-based learning is achieved and measurable. This practice provides an assessment of an individual’s skill, performance, and quality of work in a quasi-real-world environment. It does not measure the memorization of true/false and multiple-choice exams. A few of the drawbacks exists such as the potential for additional time, effort, and monetary costs to both faculty and student as well as the possibility of subjective rubric grading. However, additional research is required to better understand associated costs and their impact on faculty and students. Subjective rubric grading can be addressed by designing rubrics based on Quality Matter guidelines.8 It is the recommendation of the CSU Online Production Team to implement alternative assessment at CSU.