How to Create Quality Final Assessments Online

Student studies on their laptop.

It’s that time of the semester again –– time to prepare for final exams. Many courses at NC State continue to take place remotely or rely on online teaching tools. Assessing students online can feel challenging in the absence of face-to-face proctoring and traditional testing strategies. But there are many ways to ensure that students have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning online with integrity and creativity. 

We caught up with four of DELTA’s experts in assessment and instruction to learn their favorite final assessment strategies for the online learning environment. 

Assessment Types

Projects

If you’re interested in applying a project-based approach to your final assessment, now is a great time to try it out. Lead Instructional Designer Jessica White suggests giving assignments and activities that require students to apply knowledge and demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter. This can include formal research papers and presentations.

“Try having students give a professional presentation. They can take the role of a subject matter expert presenting information, a consultant presenting to a board, a debater supporting one side of an argument, etc. Presentations can be done live via Zoom, which makes for great question-and-answer opportunities. They can also be done asynchronously with tools like VoiceThread,” explains Lead Instructional Designer Rebecca Sanchez

If you use group projects as a final assessment, make sure you have a clear way of assessing each individual’s effort. Peer assessment provides students with the responsibility to participate, critique, and give/receive feedback. The self-assessment process asks students to make judgments about their own learning. Rubrics can also help make grading more consistent and efficient. With rubrics, it’s clear to students how their grades will be determined. 

“Synchronous online presentations to gauge student learning are a great way to test for specific and comprehensive understanding. Students can explore new concepts and present what they learned in creative ways. Group presentations, when designed well by the instructor, are often effective when teaching a large class,” says Director of Planning and Assessment Traci Temple.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to try new things. 

“Now is the time to try a more project-based approach. Throw it on the wall and see what sticks — you might be surprised,” says Instructional Designer Jennifer Tagsold

Exams

Temple says now is also a good time to revisit the final exam. Exam formats and methods can be adjusted or changed for assessing student outcomes in a course without using online monitoring tools. 

Temple recommends using timed, asynchronous exams that students must complete within a set amount of time (e.g. two hours) after starting. 

“For example, try a timed, open-book/open-notes final exam that can be taken during the scheduled final exam time or within a one-to-two day window. If choosing the latter, let the students choose when it is convenient for them to take the exam. The test can still be timed from the moment it is opened to the end of the time allowed,” Temple says. 

The types of questions you ask in the exam are important. Temple suggests asking more open-ended questions. These types of questions are harder to search for online and require students to answer in their own words. It is also helpful to ask application-based questions with answers that extend beyond the memorization of definitions and facts. Instead, design exam questions that challenge students to think critically by applying what they’ve learned.

To enhance academic integrity, avoid giving all students the same exact exam. Instead, offer two-to-three different versions of the exam at different times. Moodle allows instructors to randomize exam questions and multiple-choice options. Instructors can also add a question asking students to confirm their commitment to academic integrity. 

“Consider alternative, authentic assessments instead of a small number of high-stakes mid-term and final exams,” advises Temple. “Students resort to cheating when they are under a lot of stress. Find assessment methods that may potentially reduce high levels of anxiety (e.g. frequent, low-stakes quizzes versus two-to-three comprehensive exams).”

Enhance accessibility in exams by creating a longer window of time to take the exam that accommodates students who work, are responsible for child or elderly care, or need to find a quiet time in their remote learning location. If possible, avoid requiring students to stream or download large images, video or audio files. Keep in mind that students’ access to technology and high-speed internet varies.

Best Practices

However you choose to evaluate your students, our experts have best practices to help you and your class be successful. 

Give practice quizzes and tests to help students prepare. 

“Offer a practice opportunity for students to use whatever technology they’ll be using when assessed, so any confusion can be cleared up prior to the assessment. Study guides and reflection prompts can help focus and prepare your students for their exams,” notes Sanchez

Be flexible and intentional in your assessments. 

“Create multiple options from which students can select. Don’t create a final assessment for the sake of having a ‘final’; ensure the assessment maps back and meets all of the course learning objectives or to a specific module,” White suggests. 

Communicate.

“Communication is key. Make your expectations clear to your students; how long you expect their answers to be; what resources they can/should use; expectations for student collaborations; and how you plan to evaluate their work,” Temple says. 

Try new things. 

“Don’t try to replicate what you used to do. Create a new assignment or assessment; face-to-face [assessment] is not the same online,” White says. 

Think “real-world.” 

“How will students solve problems and find answers in the real-world work environments? Use assessment methods that are used in workplaces,” shares Temple. 

For more information and resources related to assessment, overall course design and more, visit the DELTA Teaching Resources website.