3D Brain

Lesson 5: Types of Assessment

Alternative assessments to promote and measure student learning

There is a wide range of effective assessment options that work well in a variety of learning environments. In this lesson, you will learn more about some of these strategies to help you choose and customize the assessment tasks for your course.

Analyzing a case study can be an excellent activity in an online class. Cases can be short and simple, or longer and discussed in groups.

A quality case study often has the following characteristics:

  • Requires students to think critically and analytically to recommend potential solutions
  • Has enough information to promote a thorough analysis
  • There is no single clear answer or solution
  • Allows students to bring in learning from other courses and/or disciplines, make connections, and share perspectives
  1. Why use them?

    Case studies prompt students to put concepts, theories, and policies into a specific context. They support the development of critical thinking skills, allow students to learn from one another, and encourage practical reasoning while generating strategies and solutions to real issues.

    If done in an online discussion board, students have time to think about a case, do some reading or research, and discuss it in a sustained way. As students discuss the case, they are exposed to different perspectives and ways of seeing the issues.

  2. Strategies

    • Provide a starting point for the discussion: Offer students a few questions to get the discussion started. What are the salient points about the case? What information is not relevant? What were the implications? What are the next steps?
    • Keep the discussion going: After students have discussed a case study for a few days and the conversation is fading, release new information about the case. How does that change student perspectives about the case and how they might resolve it?
    • Assess the case study: Communicate to students how the case study will be assessed. Will it be graded as a group assignment or individual? What criteria will be used to assess the case study? How will feedback be provided? An example of a group case study rubric can be found here. 
  3. Resources

    Teaching Methods for Case Studies (Ryerson University, Learning and Teaching Office)

    Teaching Students to Write a Case Study (Chronicle of Higher Education)

    Assessment by Case Studies and Scenarios (University of New South Wales)

Reflective writing is not a summary of what has been learned, but instead it asks students to articulate their learning process, answering questions such as what went well, what they would do differently next time, what shifted their perspective, and which ideas they considered and/or rejected.

  1. Why use it?

    As an individual assignment, critical reflection essays are often written at the end of a course as an opportunity for students to look back on their learning throughout the course. Alternatively, embedding a reflective component within other assignments, such as a project or presentation, allows students and instructors to gauge how learning is developing through these tasks.

  2. Strategies

    • Exam reflection: After an exam, students submit corrections or amendments to questions in which they did not receive full marks along with a reflection on how to improve their learning process and what they will do differently next time to prepare.
    • Diagnostic learning logs: Students keep notes throughout the course on what was clear to them, what they still have questions about, and other observations. Creating an FAQ discussion board for student questions allows everyone to see elaborations and clarifications on topics that are not clear to students. Question prompts to get students thinking include: What is unclear? Is there anything you disagree with? How does the course content connect with your own experiences and perspectives? What are your next steps to enhance your learning?
    • Think again: Ask students to state their views or understanding about a topic at the beginning of the course or unit, and to reassess their opinions or understanding at the end. Prior to the instruction, ask them to write about the value of the topic or issue, or to draft initial ideas of how a problem might be solved. At the end of the course, have them look back to see if their thoughts have changed.
    • Pre/ Post-checklist: Ask students to evaluate their knowledge and skills on course topics by indicating it on a numerical scale. At the beginning of the course, the checklists provide information about students' self-assessment of current understanding. At the end, students complete the same checklist to gauge their progress.
  3. Resources

    Reflective essay (University of Waterloo)

    Creating critical reflection assignments: A resource for faculty

    AACU Integrative Learning VALUE rubric

    Classroom assessment strategies

An infographic is a visual representation of information, including charts, diagrams, pictures and icons that are used with text and color to convey that information in a way that makes it easy for viewers to understand.

  1. Why use them?

    When students create infographics, it develops their critical thinking and communication skills. Infographics make great assignments when you want students to make connections, discern the most relevant information, and communicate it in a different way. They are less appropriate if you want them to develop their writing skills or go into greater depth on a topic.

  2. Strategies

    • Commercial products such as Piktochart™ and Canva™ often have educational licenses and are fairly easy to learn, making them a reasonable choice when students have variable levels of knowledge with digital media.  Do keep in mind that students with no prior experience with these software will need more time to learn how to use them.
    • The infographic can be submitted alone or along with a short written paper in which the student outlines their decision-making process. Finished assignments can be posted to a discussion board or used in an online student presentation.
    • Clear expectations: Unlike a traditional paper, word limits or guidelines do not make sense for an infographic assignment. Instead, provide examples of infographics with too much and too little content. Also, provide learning outcomes for the assignment so that students know what they should focus on and don’t get distracted by less important aspects of the assignment.
    • Critique examples: Post a few sample infographics to the discussion board for the class to critique the design, clarity of information, visual effectiveness, attention to detail, or other factors that will be evaluated. What makes them effective? What could be improved?
    • Student choice: Infographics work well when students can have a choice of topics. It can be motivating for them to develop something they are interested in. A range of topics also allows for a peer feedback process so that they can improve their project before submitting it.
    • Add a written component: Have students submit a short written document articulating their design decisions (if design considerations are part of the criteria), what content they decided to emphasize and what was omitted, and reflections on their learning in the assignment. Depending on the goals of the assignment, they could address questions such as: What connections did you make? How does the course content connect with your own experiences and perspectives? What would you do differently next time? Did you have any significant shifts in perspective?
  3. Resources

    How to make an infographic

    Examples of student-created infographics

Online discussions can provide a space for meaningful and reflective discussions for both online and in-person courses. Online discussions can expand on discussions in the classroom, can be done in a variety of formats to promote ongoing participation and ensure the voices of students who may not speak up in the classroom are heard. Some suggestions for discussions include:

  • Case study
  • Peer feedback
  • Resource sharing
  • Articles, resource or website critique
  • News items
  • Guest speakers (ask me anything)
  1. Why use them?

    Thoughtful discussion prompts allow students to explore course concepts, gain new perspectives and understanding, and participate actively and collaboratively in courses. Since they are asynchronous, they allow students the flexibility to work on them at any time. Students can think or do some reading before responding to a post, and unlike in-class discussions, they can revisit the discussion at a later time.

  2. Strategies

    • Integrate into the course design: Online discussions need to be intentionally integrated into the course and serve an intended purpose. Clearly state the learning objectives for participating in online discussions. Provide time in class to review, and integrate participation into your and student workload. Include monitoring and engaging with online discussions as part of the teaching team’s instructional work.
    • Divide into discussion groups: Opinions vary on the ideal size of student discussion groups, but some recommend groups of about 15-20 students. This allows for a diversity in experiences and perspectives while decreasing student workload. However, it does not necessarily decrease the instructor’s workload. If it is not feasible to hire a TA to manage the discussions, instructors might decide to respond to all groups at once, summarizing their comments in one post.
    • Choose discussion prompts carefully: Make sure each discussion has a purpose and convey it to students. Students do not appreciate when discussions appear to be busywork. It is not necessary to have an active discussion board throughout the entire course. For example, you may decide to skip the discussion board when students have a major project due that week – participation at such times is likely to be minimal and perhaps superficial.
    • Convey expectations and keep an eye on the discussion: Since some students are not accustomed to this type of academic writing, let them know what you expect in terms of participation and netiquette. Keep an eye on the discussion to make sure there are no inappropriate posts. It is not recommended to respond to every student post – this actually decreases student participation as they wait for the instructor to respond. Instead, you might want to strategically redirect the discussion when it meanders, ask questions to get students thinking more deeply, and pull out themes that you see in student responses.
    • Let students know how they will be graded: Will the discussion board be graded holistically at the end, or will students receive a grade for each post? What criteria will be used to grade the discussion board? Will ‘participation’ be graded, and if so, how will it be measured? Do you have expectations regarding word count and/or the number of responses to original posts?
  3. Resources

    Designing and Orchestrating Online Discussions

    Purdue University Sample Online Discussion Grading Rubric

Student presentations held in any learning environment require careful planning. There are many formats of student presentations, either alone, in small groups, live in class, through Zoom, or a previously recorded video.

  1. Why use them?

    • Presentations, whether live or pre-recorded, allow students to express their learning in different modes – spoken words, gestural expression, and often with images/visual aids. Students learn the skills of verbal expression and knowledge translation and have the opportunity to learn from each other
    • Decide on the format. Presentations can be oral/visual, individual or group, live or pre-recorded, or in the form of posters or digital posters.
  2. Strategies

    Some things to think about when planning student presentations include:

    • Will it be individual or group presentations?
    • If students do a group project, will all members of the group be required to present?
    • How will the audience have the chance to ask questions? Do the questions need to be asked in the same environment as the presentation?
    • What are your contingency plans in the likely event of a technology disruption either in the classroom or online?
  3. Other considerations

    • Set up the process: If using technology, carefully consider what tools and hardware will be used. Some students have limited access to equipment, tools, or the internet. Draft a set of instructions for students to present PowerPoint if that is part of the presentation. Prior to the presentations, make time to rehearse with any students who are interested to make sure you have planned a smooth process.
    • Clarify expectations: Let students know how their presentations will be assessed ahead of time, as well as parameters for the assignment such as time limit. List the learning outcomes for the presentation in the assignment guidelines.
    • Discuss what effective presentations look like.  Not all students have experience with giving presentations, so it is important to teach the skills you will be assessing.  Providing students with clear criteria as well as opportunities to practice will help them develop an effective presentation.
    • Be flexible: Presentations that take ten minutes in a face-to-face classroom may take a bit of extra time in an online class to allow for muting and unmuting microphones, sharing a document or screen, and repeating a sentence if the audio was wonky. For online courses, don’t schedule presentations down to the minute, and make sure you have enough of a buffer to accommodate all of the presentations.
    • Let the audience know what their role is: Let the audience know what is expected of them when other students are presenting.
    • If they will be providing peer feedback, prepare a feedback template. It is good practice for observers to mute their microphones so they do not distract the presenters.
    • Discuss how questions will be handled. Let them know if they are allowed to ask questions during the presentation or if they save them for the end. If the presentation uses all the allotted time, how can the audience follow up with the presenters.
    • Additionally, consider if the chat should be used during the presentations, and if so, provide guidelines for use.
  4. Resources

    Managing student presentations when teaching remotely

    Online student presentations

    Adapt student presentation assignments for distance learning (Luther College)

A podcast is an audio narrative that uses audio recording to capture student self-expression and analytical skills in creative ways. A podcast is not a recording of a student reading a traditional paper. This assignment can be done individually (a voice memo) or collaboratively (conducting interviews).

  1. Why use them?

    Like student presentations, podcast assignments allow students to demonstrate their learning in a different mode. Students can expand on traditional knowledge generation and translation approaches by using strategies such as including portions of interviews, adding relevant sounds, music, etc.

  2. Strategies

    • Have students listen to sample podcasts and share their thoughts in a short audio-recording to the discussion board or in class. D2L/Brightspace allows participants to record a response and directly attach the audio file to the discussion board post.
    • A simple podcast assignment: have students use their phones to record a 3-5 minute podcast. Require students to write a script they will submit alongside their audio file. Having a script makes it easier for the student to record in a single take, and makes it easier for the instructor to assess. Consider how to ensure everyone has access to appropriate technology – not everyone has a phone or one with recording capability.
    • Use a rubric to grade their final podcast assignment. Consider what kinds of learning you are expecting students to demonstrate with this task and format. Common categories include content, organization, delivery, and creativity.
  3. Resources

    Assignment Design

    Rubric ideas

    Read about it

    Kaziewicz, J. (2012, April 24). Podcasting in the classroom [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://at.blogs.wm.edu/podcasting-in-the-classroom/

An open book exam is a student assessment method designed to promote and assess higher-order learning such as critical thinking, problem-solving, synthesis and evaluation. Open book exams, or take-home exams, require students to connect course material, their own experiences, and other sources of information to solve real-world scenarios or problems.

  1. Why use them?

    Open book, or open resource, exams provide robust opportunities for students to connect course materials with their previous learning by analyzing, synthesizing, critiquing, and/or evaluating information. By providing a longer window for completion, open-book exams are more accessible to all students.

  2. Strategies

    • Be explicit about how long you expect it will take for students to complete the exam. If you are concerned about how long students will devote to writing, consider breaking the exam up into multiple parts. This allows you to see how things are going and make any needed adjustments for part 2. It also allows you to start marking part 1 as soon as possible.
    • Conduct the open book exam in class to have a consistent environment for all students and to ensure students are working within the time limits.
    • Include word ranges or word limits for each type of response for clarity of expectations and to ensure a reasonable grading process.
    • Limit the need for students to create graphs/charts/complex diagrams if they will require technical expertise that may be a barrier.
    • Focus on higher-level thinking questions (i.e. questions that can not be readily answered by google or AI) such as “What would happen if…”; “Why do these two theorists/groups/researchers disagree about…”; “Read this paragraph and discuss how it relates to the concept of….”
    • Require students to explicitly draw on course materials. If you want citations, provide clear instructions about how to do that.
    • Decide if/how you will enable students to ask you questions during the exam. Also, clarify if and how you will respond.
  3. Resources

    Weleschuk, Dyjur, & Kelly. (2019). Online assessment in higher education. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series

    A Guide for Academics - Open Book Exams

    5 Tips for Using Take-Home Exams

Oral exams can be designed as stand-alone assessments of student learning or in conjunction with a written exam or project. Although oral exams have not been as frequently used in North America, there is a long-standing tradition of using oral exams in higher education in Europe and elsewhere.

  1. Why use them?

    • There are some fields in which oral exams are the most authentic mode of assessment. For example, in many professional fields, such as law, nursing, and teaching, students are expected to be able to express their learning by speaking.
    • While some students may be more skilled at expressing their ideas orally than in writing, oral exams allow all students to ask for unclear or ambiguous questions to be clarified so that the knowledge they are demonstrating is the best fit for the expectations of the question.
    • Finally, oral exams help mitigate academic integrity concerns as students must be able to articulate their learning in their own words at the moment.
  2. Strategies

    Because oral exams can generate significant anxiety and introduce different types of bias into the assessment scenario, it is important to plan carefully for meaningful, fair and ethical oral exams.

    • Develop standard procedures to ensure fair treatment of all students. For example, establish the length of time, the number of questions, and the assessment criteria and assessment tools such as checklists or rubrics and communicate those details to students well ahead of time. Write a script for instructions to students so that they all have the same information. Decide how much you will ‘prompt’ students and how many clarifying questions you will ask. Transparency is essential for this kind of exam.

    • Use the same technology and process for oral exams as for holding 1:1 office hour consultations so that everyone is familiar with it.

    • If possible, provide students with one unscored ‘practice question’ at the beginning of their oral exam to clear up any procedural questions or concerns before using questions for assessment.

    • To ensure greater reliability and to mitigate issues of implicit bias, consider having more than one assessor. If more than one assessor is not available, consider having one instructor/TA facilitate and record the exam, and have a second instructor/TA score students’ responses based on the recording.

    • If combining an oral exam with a written exam or project, choose a small sampling of questions from the written exam or project and ask the student to explain how they answered each question, or ask them to ‘extend their thinking’ for a few of the written exam questions.

  3. Resources

    A short guide to oral assessment

    Guidelines for (online) oral assessment

    Rethinking Oral Examinations for Undergraduate Students

An annotated bibliography assignment requires students to find and summarize salient literature on a course topic, making it a good choice for learning one topic in depth. Students develop skills in locating relevant literature, analyzing the quality of articles, understanding the arguments being made, and summarizing them in a brief description.

  1. Why use them?

    Developing an annotated bibliography provides students with the opportunity to strengthen skills in finding appropriate research literature, reading critically to assess the contributions of various articles, and writing concisely and coherently for a broader academic audience. This task can be assigned as a stand-alone task to help students become more familiar with the literature in a given field or used as a preliminary assignment prior to conducting a full-scale research paper or project.

  2. Strategies

    • Have students choose from a list of topics closely related to the course so that they can dive into an area of interest to create an annotated bibliography.
    • Invite a subject-area librarian to do a guest speaker session with students on search strategies and appropriate citations.
    • Even if students are not going to write a research paper, have them draft a thesis statement or research question first. They can then curate an annotated bibliography which includes a description of the extent to which the chosen sources help to address the research question or proposed thesis.
    • Prior to a major research assignment, have students contribute to an annotated bibliography to be shared in the online discussion space as a resource for all students in the course.
  3. Resources

    Annotated bibliography samples

    How to prepare an annotated bibliography

    Example assignment guidelines

A media critique asks students to analyse a current general media source/story (such as a news article, music lyrics, blog post, viral video, etc.) related to course content. They either critique a selected media item, or they find one based on specific criteria to critique.

  1. Why use them?

    Critiquing a current media source can be a meaningful learning experience that allows students to make connections between their daily lives and course content. This type of assignment can be used to assess students’ ability to identify credible news sources, research and provide other sources of supporting or contradicting information, express and justify their positions, and clearly communicate their ideas.

  2. Strategies

    • Provide examples of a news article critique and use the discussion board to discuss the elements of a good critique and news source. Post a rubric or assessment criteria to help guide student work.
    • Have students find two media items with competing positions on a relevant topic to critique and compare.
    • Have students post their critiques to the D2L/Brightspace Discussion board, then break the class into small groups to provide each other with peer feedback.
    • Give students the option of using media to complete their assignments (such as recording a video or creating an infographic).
  3. Resources

    Media Critique (Penn State)

    Film Review (Duke University)

    Media Critique (UWSC)

    Media Critique (Buffalo State)

    Sample assignment

An eportfolio is a collection of work or artifacts that students select and organize to demonstrate their learning in a course or program. Since they are digital, students can include written assignments, audio recordings, PowerPoint slides, concepts maps, and more.

Typically, students will choose exemplars of work to include in an eportfolio rather than all tasks done over the term. The goal is not to include an exhaustive collection, but rather showcase the pieces that best represent their work. Student reflection on their learning is often a key component of eportfolios.

  1. Why use them?

    The process of selecting the best examples of their learning in a course or program can be illuminating as students see how far they have come. Their learning becomes visible as they organize artifacts that showcase their knowledge and skills. Other benefits for including an eportfolio assignment in a course or program include demonstrating understanding for assessment purposes, making connections between different courses, topics and fields, prompting learners to translate theory into practice, and gathering evidence of particular competencies for accreditation purposes.

  2. Strategies

    Introduce the assignment early and include an assessment rubric

    Students need time to understand the task and reflect on it, so introduce it early. A rubric will help them to make decisions about what to include in their eportfolio. 

    Consider the Collect-Select-Reflect-Connect framework

    • Collect: Students gather artifacts
    • Select: They select the strongest exemplars of their learning
    • Reflect: Students reflect on what they have learned. Consider giving them some reflection questions to get them started: What did you learn? Why is it important? How does it connect to other courses/ topics/ fields? What are your next steps to advance your learning?
    • Connect: Identify connections between the artifacts and reflection to provide a focus or themes for the portfolio.

    Provide guidelines and set limits

    Let students know what types of work are appropriate for their eportfolios. Some possibilities include discussion board posts, blog posts, video and audio recordings, written assignments, group projects, images, and infographics.

    Some students may want to put everything they have into an eportfolio. Set firm limits such as the minimum and maximum number of artifacts they can include, and a word range for written pieces such as an introduction, reflection statement and summary.

  3. Resources

    E-Portfolios: Best Practices for Use in Higher Education

Lesson checklist

  • Consider a variety of assessment strategies
  • Learn more about the what, why, and how of each type of assessment
  • Reflect on which assessment strategies are the best fit for your course


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