6 ways instructors should revise student evaluation and assessment practices

Expert Insight

6 ways instructors should revise student evaluation and assessment practices

Standard student evaluation and assessment practices no longer account for students’ and instructors’ new reality, marked by a rapid shift to emergency remote instruction, campus closures, and increased family obligations, among other equally disruptive and stressful changes. Even as institutions adopt non-letter grading and transcript updates, instructors must still decide how to adjust daily student assessment practices.

Use the checklist below to guide conversations and brainstorming on temporary course-level changes to scheduling, testing, student academic engagement, and academic integrity practices.

1. Account for students’ unpredictable living and study arrangements when updating or developing course structure, scheduling, deadlines, and content

Hosting synchronous class sessions at their originally scheduled times may feel like the fastest and simplest way to transition to remote instruction. However, the COVID-19 crisis brings with it unpredictable schedules and responsibility changes for both instructors and students. Instructors can introduce simple changes to course material and deadlines to address some of the challenges their students may face.

  • Prioritize asynchronous formats and make recordings available shortly following live sessions
  • Remove synchronous participation requirements from final grade calculations
  • Let students know if upcoming coursework contains mature content, such as violence or nudity. Students may need to share their study space – and inadvertently, their screens – with family, young siblings, and children
  • Preemptively set due-date reminders when posting a new assignment to the LMS. This way, students will receive automatic nudges to submit assignments on time. You can also send an efficient one-off reminder, as many LMSs allow you to send a single message to all students yet to submit an assignment

Align deadlines to students’ new circumstances
Students may need to prioritize non-academic responsibilities during the day or may need to share technology – including bandwidth – with other family members. To account for these and similar conflicts, you may choose to provide late-night deadlines so that students have extra evening time to complete assignments or set due-dates that allow students to work on assignments over the weekend.

2. Consistently communicate class policy, due-date, assignment, and curricular changes to students

  • Provide students an updated syllabus so that they understand and may review both your expectations and curricular changes for the remainder of the term
  • Maintain a centralized, up-to-date, written portal that provides important course updates (e.g., Announcements section of their LMS)

Self-Check Question: Have you recently provided important information to students during synchronous instruction?

If yes, confirm that you also shared this information with other students who did not participate in the synchronous session and who may not have had a chance to listen to the recording. 

3. Vary how students can interact with you and course material to increase student engagement

Administrators and instructors worry about a potential decrease in student engagement with coursework amidst the fray of remote learning, changing grading policies, and non-academic COVID-19 challenges. At EAB, we are keeping our ear to the ground for developing institutional efforts to keep students engaged throughout the crisis.

In the meantime, instructors may evaluate the following practices for increasing in-class student engagement.

Consider these methods to improve student understanding of key content:

  • Offer synchronous office hours over video, chat, or phone, especially prior to big due-dates or exams
  • Create short videos or posts to clarify particularly important or confusing concepts
  • Provide students with an opportunity to develop course material. For example, consider allowing students to:
    • Contribute their own discussion or exam questions
    • Submit exam questions and answers
    • Share feedback on new technology or assignment types
    • Provide input on scheduling and frequency of due-dates

Consider the following opportunities to connect with students:

  • Participate in your students’ discussion board to establish your presence in the class
  • Supplement graded assignments (e.g., projects, papers) with voice-recorded comments
  • If you are comfortable doing so, share your personal experience with COVID-19 and encourage students to approach you about theirs

“We are scared too [and it’s OK to let students know that]. We are people. We are not automatons that are able to spew data and facts regardless of the circumstances.”

Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack
Assistant Professor of Education
Harvard University

4. When possible, replace exams with other take-home assessments

Alternate assessment types include writing prompts, papers, projects, and problem sets. In comparison to online exams, these familiar take-home assessments:

  • Rely less heavily on a stable, high-speed Internet connection
  • Do not require instructor-mandated allotments of uninterrupted time
  • Do not force instructors and students to engage with unfamiliar testing technology

Consider removing or making optional previously required group work components, as students may struggle to arrange their schedules and access to technology around classmates’ availability. You may also choose to decrease the length of upcoming assessments to account for COVID-19-related conflicts that may prevent students from completing longer assignments.

5. If necessary to require online exams, make them asynchronous, open-book, open-note, and open-Internet

In a non-proctored environment, students may easily access their books, notes, and Google throughout an online exam. Therefore, instructors should construct exams that encourage students to demonstrate mastery of concepts rather than content that students can verify through a quick search. Instructors concerned about cheating can employ the tactics in the sections below to deter academic integrity violations.

Ensure that students receive adequate time to log into and complete online exams

Rationale: Students will need to familiarize themselves with the platform on the fly, directing time and attention away from the exam

Rationale: Time-limited exams require students to demonstrate mastery of concepts as they do not have time to verify each answer. However, students may not be able to allocate multiple hours of uninterrupted time to the exam.

Rationale: Such questions may take significantly more time online than on paper, forcing students to focus on formatting over content

Rationale: A mandatory log-in time disqualifies students with competing priorities from taking the exam 

Rationale: Students with scheduling conflicts receive ample time to complete the test and can still participate in all course sessions

Use low-stakes practice quizzes to introduce students to question types that may appear on an online exam and let students attempt exams more than once

As students adjust to the COVID-19 “new normal,” they may experience technical difficulties, interruptions, or other challenges that prevent them from completing the exam on the first try. By allowing multiple attempts, you:

1. Save time for students who would otherwise need to request a reset
2. Save yourself time to reset the exam
3. Ensure that students who attempt to cheat by requesting an unwarranted reset do not gain an advantage over others

Draw exam questions from your own or a publisher’s test bank

Rationale: All students will receive a different exam so that they cannot complete it collaboratively

Rationale: Randomized exams will vary significantly not just in order but in content

Rationale: Publisher test questions and their answers frequently appear in Google searches

Vary question types to test students’ comprehension and mitigate cheating

Rationale: Students must apply course concepts to provide the correct answer

Rationale: Students must demonstrate concept mastery and provide an original response

Rationale: Student will not be able to rely on examples readily available online

Consider testing your exam on someone unfamiliar with the subject

Revise question parameters if your trial test-taker can easily pass the exam relying only on common sense, a book, and the Internet.

Refrain from using free or free-trial software as a temporary solution to cheating, especially without prior approval

Temporary remote instruction does not generally warrant time, energy, and financial investment in more extreme cheating prevention methods, like lockdown browsers or online proctoring services. Even a free trial can land you in hot water and decrease student engagement and academic success:

You may violate institutional policies by entering into a software contract on behalf of your institution and may cause unforeseen IT issues

As with all subscriptions, it’s easy to forget to cancel a free trial and create confusion about who at your institution must then foot the bill

Software services may require access to student data, which students should not need to submit to succeed in their courses

6. Emphasize academic integrity as a means to personal development rather than to cheating prevention

Rationale: Framing the discussion in terms of cheating may convey distrust to students and worsen the stress or alienation they may feel due to COVID-19.

Rationale: Research and practice confirm that students cheat less frequently following a recent prime that encourages honesty

Check out UC San Diego’s faculty-facing recommendations for how faculty can promote academic integrity. Consider framing conversations on integrity in terms of the “dos” listed on MIT’s academic integrity page.

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