Many institutions have responded to the global pandemic by making the hard decision to shift all residential courses to finish the term online. This abrupt transition is forcing residential faculty to face all of the typical challenges of migrating learning from residential to online delivery without any of the time needed for the design and development of successful online learning.

For many faulty who teach online, the most difficult challenge is ensuring reliable, effective, valid and secure assessments of student achievement of course-level learning objectives. When teaching online, faculty must always face the question of the actual identity of the assessment taker. Is it their student, or someone else?

There is enough uncertainty in these trying times, worrying about how to properly assess your students in these newly-transitioned courses shouldn’t be on your list of concerns. We’ve compiled some actionable advice to help you overcome this challenge.

Incorporating project-based assessments

Project-based assessments provide instructors an opportunity to evaluate the higher order thinking skills of a student as they apply what they have learned in the context of an authentic situation.

Project-based assessment, particularly when structured into a series of project deliverables, is an effective buttress against fraudulent activity because it results in a stream of work products that allows the faculty member to determine whether all work is coming from the same author. This is precisely why accepted best practice in online instruction identifies project-based assessment, or other authentic assessment measures, as the preferred approach for both the effectiveness and security of the online assessment.

Further, technology tools such as Turnitin can help evaluate academic integrity by determining if any of the work products are plagiarized.

Tips for implementing project-based assessments

Faculty who already leverage project-based assessment will have a smoother transition to online delivery. But if you’re not in that category, employing the following strategies can make the implementation more effective and efficient:

  • Ensure your project assignment instructions are clear and complete to head off an avalanche of follow-up emails from students with questions.
  • Include a comprehensive evaluative rubric as part of the assignment instructions to proactively address student questions and keep students focused on the most critical parts of the assignment.
  • Provide blank, downloadable template documents to help students understand exactly what form the completed project deliverable should take.
  • If the project requires the submissions of large files, such as videos or graphic-heavy PowerPoints, it is likely that the files will be too large to be submitted via the LMS, and you will need an alternative solution such as YouTube for videos or DropBox for PowerPoints.

Facilitating tests in an online environment

Faculty whose residential classes rely on objective tests delivered in a proctored classroom environment face a much greater challenge when moving online. The questions of validity, security and reliability are very real.

For assistance, there are a pair of common technology tools available to help ensure the validity of online objective tests:

  • Lockdown browser – This feature “locks down” the student’s browser as soon as they launch the test, meaning they can only access the online test and no other computer file or website.
  • Online proctoring – These services provide an actual proctor to observe the students throughout the testing process. These proctors may be actual human beings who monitor the test taker via a webcam or a virtual proctor which monitors the students’ activity via an algorithm and highlights any red flags for follow-up inspection by the faculty member.

Tips for effective online testing

If your institution has access to one or both of the tools described above, we strongly recommend using them to help ensure the validity of objective online testing. If you do not have access to these tools, there are still actions that you can take to increase the validity of your online assessments.

Consider the following tips:

  • Recognize and accept that an online test will be an “open-book” test for the student and rewrite the questions accordingly.
  • Set a time limit on the test using the tools in the learning management system (LMS). Setting a time limit will limit students’ ability to look up all the answers because they may run out of time and not finish the test.
  • Use the functionality in the LMS to randomize the test questions and answers to prevent an answer key from being created and circulated by the students.
  • Set up the test in the LMS to draw upon a large pool of test questions, so each student receives a unique set of test questions.

Ensure accurate assessment online

The transition to online instruction shouldn’t hinder your ability to effectively assess your students’ understanding of course-level learning objectives. Whether you leverage objective tests or course projects as your primary means of assessment, following the strategies outlined above will help ensure that your assessments are as valid, reliable and secure as possible.

If you need additional help navigating this new challenge, contact us and we’d be happy to assist you.

Author: Dave Lungren

Dave Lungren is the Vice-President of Content Solutions with Collegis Education. Over the past 17 years, he has worked with more than 30 institutions on the design, development and deployment of online and hybrid programs.