Assessing student learning

When you assess student learning in a remote instruction environment, the dynamics change:

  • You are not co-located with your students in a classroom. Be explicit in communicating your expectations to students. Consider creating rubrics for major assessment items.
  • A number of weekly assignments with relatively low stakes will be better for your students than a heavily weighted final paper or exam towards end of term.
  • Calibrate the weighting of assignments with students’ natural progression of understanding through the course. For example, schedule shorter assessments worth 5–10 percent of the grade when students are still learning about a topic before larger assessments worth 20–30 percent when students should have mastered a topic.
  • If you want your students to work in groups or teams, run an orientation session at the start of term to explain what the work entails.
  • Consider using a communication channel—such as the Discussion tool in Canvas—to support assessment so that you are available to students when they are working on a high-stakes assessment item.

What to consider

A robust assessment scheme (a) ensures that educational goals have been met (summative assessment), (b) provides students with useful information to aid their learning now (formative assessment), and (c) builds students’ capacity to judge their learning (sustainable assessment).

Ask yourself why and how you typically approach assessment of learning. Your reflection on the questions below can guide you through a decision-making process in constructing an appropriate assessment scheme.

Your context will determine many of your decisions about assessment.

  • What kind of course is it? 
    For example, breadth/writing intensive/quantitative, fourth-year lab/seminar, graduate, field study.
  • Who are your students?
    Practitioners, young students with no work experience, mixed groups, students with disabilities and accessibility considerations—differing class compositions will suggest different forms of assessment.
  • What is the class size?
  • What is your assessment framework? How many/what items do you have?
  • Why are you assessing?
    Decide what educational goals or effects you want your assessment to produce for your students.
  • What do you wish to assess?
    Decide what you are looking for in the students you are assessing, such as specific skills (e.g., oral or written communication, collaboration with peers) or understandings of material (e.g., concepts, theories, processes).
  • How can you assess in the remote environment?
    Identify the assessment type (e.g., quizzes, presentations, reflections, group assignments, reports, essays, proposals, exams, etc.) that you regard as the most fair and accurate indication of the knowledge/skills/attitudes of your students during a term. Some assessments that you previously conducted face-to-face may need adjustments to work for remote instruction. Instead of live student presentations, students could submit video or audio recordings. Live exams may have to be converted into take-home exams. For lab reports that rely on specialized equipment, you might wish to substitute observations of a simulation or engagement with a scientific article.
  • When should the assessments be conducted (frequency/timing)? 
    Shorter but more frequent assessments could be more conducive to learning remotely (e.g., four quizzes to replace one exam). With cumulative assignments due at the end of the term, having regular checkpoints throughout the term will help students stay on track in the self-paced remote learning environment.

What are the options?

Canvas has a number of built-in tools for assessing and grading students:

  • The Quiz tool can be used for quizzes, tests and exams. For students who are registered with the Centre for Accessible Learning, don’t forget to make adjustments to the quiz duration.
  • The Assignment tool can be used to submit a variety of file types, images, URLs, etc.
  • Discussion boards allow for public written responses to generate engagement with specific topics.
  • The SpeedGrader allows you to quickly view, grade and comment on student assignments.

SFU also has licenses for other tools that can help with assessments:

  • Crowdmark streamlines grading between multiple graders.
  • TurnItIn checks for originality of written work submitted by students.
  • Webwork is an online, crowd-sourced homework system that draws from a large database of questions for math, science and engineering.

Canvas has a number of plug-in tools that are not supported by SFU, but that you could consider implementing with the consent of your students:

  • Perusall engages students in learning by making it a collective, annotated activity.
  • Piazza generates student discussions that everyone can engage in with real-time reports.

Additional resources

Assessment and feedback design