Assessments provide ways for students to demonstrate that they have met the learning objectives. Assessments can be both traditional ( tests and papers, for example) and non-traditional (performances, experiments, portfolios, interviews). In line with Universal Design Principles, it is generally advisable to take a mixed approach, using both traditional and non-traditional assessments. 

However, given the enormous disparities among our students’ opportunities for success that the COVID pandemic has made visible, faculty may wish to consider non-traditional modes of evaluation designed to ensure greater equity, including labor-based grading contracts, ungrading,and other fair assessment practices.

No matter what mode of assessment you choose, all students are entitled to fair and equal evaluation of their work. As a general rule, assessments should provide for various kinds of responses. In the FHLE, which requires both synchronous and asynchronous components, faculty may choose to assess different kinds of assignments according to different criteria. 

Where possible, faculty should consider avoiding timed tests, as these are both difficult to proctor and test for content retention that may be especially difficult for students who are facing personal challenges. In any field, but especially in STEM, some opportunity for students to reflect or express themselves in non-traditional ways may enhance learning.

There are two major categories of Assessment:

  • Summative Assessment
    • Occurs at the end of a predetermined period of instruction;
    • Rates the student in relation to an external standard of correctness;
    • Is the approach taken by most traditional and standardized tests
  • Formative Assessment
    • Takes place on an ongoing basis as instruction is proceeding;
    • Rates the student in using criteria that the student has helped to identify;
    • Is the approach taken by alternative assessment methods.

When developing Assessments, the following criteria should be considered:

  • Purpose: What needs to be determined about student learning?
  • Validity: Does the assessment measure what it intends to measure?
  • Fairness: Is the assessment connected to specific learning opportunities and objectives?
  • Reliability: Is the assessment broadly applicable across the student population?
  • Significance: Does the assessment address content and skills that are valued by the discipline?
  • Efficiency: Is the assessment method consistent with the available time and class conditions?

Activities and Interactions

Activities can range from the consumption of content (readings, media, lectures) to active learning strategies. Content is most closely related to the development of disciplinary literacy. Disciplinary literacy is how students develop the language of a particular discipline as a step towards developing competence and eventual mastery. While consuming content is an essential component for the development of competencies, active learning strategies have been identified. This is also an equity issue; active learning can narrow achievement gaps for underrepresented students.

Interactions are those opportunities in each module (or chunk of the course) for students to interact with their instructor and each other. In online learning environments, interactions can occur synchronously and/or asynchronously, and often, these two modalities of interactions inform and scaffold one another. Opportunities for interactions may include:

Synchronous Interactions

  • Discussion:
    • Zoom breakout rooms with specific activity to complete or talking points to discuss with larger group upon return from breakout rooms;
  • Performance feedback: 
    • Synchronous discussion of peer review of each other’s written work (this would likely also require an asynchronous interaction component for students to complete the peer review). Synchronous discussion of peer review may include synthesizing common critiques and areas of improvement;
  • Collaborative learning:
    • Opportunities for students to learn from one another;
    • This may include pairs or small groups of students leading discussion each synchronous class or other group presentation activities (this would likely also require asynchronous interaction component for students to work together to prepare these presentations).

Asynchronous Interactions

  • Discussion:
    • Blackboard discussion forums;
    • Instructors may pose a reflection question for student response, and responses could foster discussion during synchronous class;
    • Students may also pose reflection questions for later synchronous discussion;
    • Instructors may opt to respond to student comments on the discussion forum;
    • Instructors may require students to respond to other students;
  • Voicethread: activities with written text or recorded audio responses:
    • Similar to Blackboard discussion forums, student comments could be in response to instructor-posed reflection question, their own reflection questions, or responses to other student comments;
    • Student comments can also be either written or audio recorded for multi-modality communications;
  • Perusall: annotation of text, image and video with interactive components:
    • Interactive components could include responding to another students’ analysis or instructor responding to student analysis;
  • Performance feedback:
    • Peer review of each other’s written work, which could scaffold synchronous peer review discussion;
  • Collaborative learning:
    • In order to lead a synchronous discussion or group presentation, students will have to work together for a common goal on the assigned activity/project. Students will take on different tasks and convene with one another to prepare for synchronous presentation of the material.

Interactions Specifically Between Student and Instructor

  • Communication with students should be consistent and informative. You may consider sending out a weekly email with announcements and reminders at the same time each week. This consistency will scaffold students’ development of an academic routine, which may be more difficult in remote learning environments, and will help prevent students becoming inundated with emails from different classes;
  • Through the semester, student-instructor interaction may also solicit periodic (anonymous) feedback from students about class experience and progress in order to make adjustments as needed.

If a class has a mix of remote and in-person students, both types of learners should be equally integral to ongoing interactions. We recommend creatively developing opportunities to have students reach across this divide. Some options include those mentioned above (performance feedback, collaborative learning) and others, such as asynchronous study groups or book clubs.

Overall, to facilitate interaction, we may ask ourselves what we and our students are missing from online contact that is present (or seems to be present) in face-to-face instruction. Body language, facial expression, perception in a three-dimensional space are all robust in person but sometimes minimized online. How can these or other communicative features be intentionally designed and integrated? Frequent, detailed contact with individual and small groups of students may be the optimal first step.

Final Grades

Because of the disruption caused by the sudden shift to remote instruction in Spring 2020, students were allowed to designate any of their courses pass/fail. This was an exception. As of the fall 2020 semester, we will return to our standing policies regarding pass/fail. Please consult the Undergraduate Faculty Handbook or your campus dean if you have questions.