Assessment and Feedback in STEM

Assessment – homework, quizzes, exams, and other work – is particularly problematic in the online environment. Many STEM courses rely on in-class, timed exams to gauge student learning. It is quite difficult to conduct this type of assessment online, and proctoring options may be very intrusive for students (and may impact their performance). As remote learners, students have access to a huge and ever-changing set of resources, including inexpensive “tutoring” through sites like CheggConsider rethinking the assessment approaches you’ve used in the past and ask yourself if there are other ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

  • Online homework sites, including those bundled with textbooks, can be very helpful. In addition to reducing the tedium of grading, these sites often provide supporting material such as hints and videos. The drawback is that the questions tend to be multiple choice and otherwise limited. You may want to assign a weekly problem for students to do by hand, so that you can see their work and thought process;
  • Exams present many challenges in an online setting and it’s difficult to completely prevent cheating on quizzes and exams. Some suggestions:
    • Use the standard techniques of randomized questions or different question order, but be aware that students can use the web or other resources to obtain answers;
    • You can administer a timed exam through Blackboard. It’s preferable to allow students to see the entire exam at once (rather than one question at a time);
    • If you prefer to create your own exam, you could still administer it in Blackboard as a timed exam by asking students to download the exam and then upload their work within the time period;
    • Faculty can proctor exams via Zoom, an approach that mimics the in-person experience of a proctored exam. There may be issues if students have bandwidth issues or are in different time zones. And for larger classes, this is not an ideal approach;
    • Some interactive textbooks provide a mechanism to assess student learning. Other publishers offer options for online exams and browser lockdowns, but you may be limited to multiple-choice types of questions. You can also explore using Respondus and Safe Exam Browser, which turns a computer into a secure workstation;
    • Live online proctoring (through companies such as ProctorU), and automated proctoring (for example, Examity) are options, but can be both expensive and intrusive;
    • Schedule an oral portion of an exam to truly see what students do or do not understand. With some hints, they may get to the answer. This works best for very small classes. Consider other types of assessments, such as papers or presentations, to provide different ways for students to demonstrate learning;
    • A pedagogically rich option is to offer an unproctored, open-book exam, in which students must show all work. While students may still cheat, the overall stress involved in this type of exam (for you and for the students) is significantly lower.

Fordham Example
A faculty member in the Computer and Information Science Department used MIMIR and Zoom to proctor a special exam for one student. The student shared their screen with the instructor during the entire session (the instructor muted their audio and video, to reduce distractions). In this case, the instructor set the time of the exam to 80% of the typical in person timing, to make sure that the student was engaged with the exam. They modified the grading approach accordingly.