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When planning to assess student learning, it is important for the instructor to consider the purpose of assessment and the learning goals of the course to know what type of action may be most appropriate. For example, when exams and other assessments are viewed more as opportunities for students to learn rather than strictly a way for the instructor to determine student grades, it may open up more possibilities for the types of assessments offered and the type of feedback that is provided to students.

Instructors should consider their learning goals for students, the goal of the assessment in the course (grading, student learning, both), as well as the resources they have to provide feedback on the assessment as they make decisions about how to best handle exams and other assessments.

First Principles

  1. Keep the learning going. think outside the parameters of your original assessments and ask the question, what can we do here that keeps learning happening? What if our first priority in an emergency is not completing testing but giving an opportunity to show learning?
  2. Have a plan in place and discuss it with your students in the days prior to the exam if at all possible. If campus is open, then X. If campus is not open, then Y. If you are sick and unable to attend the exam, then Z.


Peer Review/Feedback

  • Peer review of assessments, when supported by a detailed rubric and explanation from the instructor, can be powerful opportunities for students to learn from their peers. Peer review can be conducted through canvas where a rubric can be built into the assessment and each student can be automatically assigned a particular number of reviews to complete.
  • Peer review can also be done informally and anonymously in class by asking students to complete a question on a Google Doc and either leave their name off or provide just a student ID. They then pass the work 3-5 times to maintain anonymity and then work with a partner to see how they could improve on the answer they received. Again, a detailed rubric is important to support students in providing the right level of feedback. This activity works well even in large lecture courses.
  • Discussing with students the difference between helpful and unhelpful feedback can deepen the learning experience. For example, “this is great” is not particularly helpful positive feedback but “I liked how you explained X but I was still a little confused by your statement Y” is more useful for the person receiving the feedback.
  • In addition to peer feedback, if the teaching team is unable to provide the normal amount of feedback or grading, choosing one or two questions that receive detailed feedback and then giving credit for completion for the rest of the assignment while posting a key, can allow students to check their own work. When paired with a discussion about making students a partner in their own learning (see below), this strategy can relieve the grading burden while also helping students to get the feedback they need to continue learning.

Remote Exams

  • Take home exams that focus on critical thinking questions and invite students to use notes, books, and even the internet can transform an exam into a deeper learning opportunity.
  • Timed take home exams can be conducted by emailing the exam out at a particular time and then requiring it to be turned in on Canvas or by email by a set time.
  • Online exams can be conducted via Canvas, where instructors can set a time window for the exam. Canvas can also allow instructors to require the exam to be taken in a certain place by restricting the IP address of the user and through the use of quiz banks, questions can be shuffled to reduce the likelihood of academic dishonesty.


Good Communication is Key

  • Recognizing that many students have significant anxiety around assessment and that all students are likely going to be experiencing higher than normal levels of anxiety during an unplanned event is important. Clear and positive communication with students about the event and how you will handle assessments can help alleviate anxiety.
  • If you need time to make a decision about how to handle the missed assessment, let them know that and give them a timeline for when you expect to decide.
  • Avoid changing the format of the assessment multiple times if possible. If you need to change the format or date, be transparent about why and what information you are using to make the decision. Acknowledge that the situation may be less than ideal but that you are focused on providing the best learning experience possible under the circumstances.
  • If able, ask students for their feedback about possible alternatives for assessment. Giving students the chance to weigh in on these decisions can help them feel more in control of the situation.