Quizzes and exams are an important assessment component in some courses. In some cases they translate to an online mode while serving the same purpose. In other cases this may prove an inadequate or less reliable measure of learning. In this guide, we question assumptions about traditional summative assessments and explore alternatives that may better demonstrate mastery of stated learning objectives.
Rethinking Exams for Large Online Courses
- How would students demonstrate a mastery of what they’ve learned by an authentic application, outside of class? Your learning objectives should articulate these outcomes.
- Authentic alternatives that involve synthesis, analysis, evaluation, and creation demonstrate learning at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- Alternatives to exams: online discussions, group work or projects, reflective papers or other writing assignments, virtual presentations, mockups, creative projects (e.g., poster, video, podcast, website)—all options in Canvas assignments.
- Make online assessments lower stakes than in-class assessments or create more assessments of lesser value (a series of quizzes and fewer high-stakes exams like the mid-term and final).
- Embed low-stakes quizzes in Panopto video lectures or Top Hat presentations.
- Scaffold non-test, higher-stakes assessments by breaking them down into component parts with multiple submissions over time (e.g., topic selection, prospectus, bibliography, drafts, notes).
- Learner-centered assessments: choice of assessments, peer review, group projects, student- or group-generated questions.
As a practical matter, online proctoring systems can only make cheating more difficult not eliminate it. Furthermore, online proctoring may significantly degrade the student learning experience by increasing test anxiety, exacerbating disparities in technology access, and violating student privacy by requiring recording (likely in their home).
- Appeal to students’ sense of integrity: Remind them of the Academic Code of Conduct to which they are bound—and let them know you’re well aware of how students might cheat.
- Explain answers: If a test includes a question or problem whose answer or solution could be found online or shared, have them explain their answer in writing or in a virtual office meeting.
- Use online testing settings in Canvas or Gradescope (below) to limit the test availability, set a maximum time, randomize questions and answers, randomly draw from larger question banks, show one question at a time, lock questions after answering, etc.
Joe Guadagni, Rutgers University Mathematics Department, compiled this advice for STEM and other quantitative courses that face exam cheating issues:
- Ask more conceptual questions (e.g., "what is the next step in this problem?", "state the definition of...", "explain why this hypothesis in the theorem is necessary").
- Ask students to identify an error in a proof or computation (this is particularly effective since it can't be googled).
- Eliminate multiple-choice and fill-in questions in favor of show-all-work questions where students have to scan and upload their work.
- If using problems from a textbook, change not only the numbers but also the names (e.g., John to Alice) and the scenario (e.g., pulling a boat in to letting a kite string out). The reason for this is that popular textbooks will probably have many of their problems already solved online somewhere, for example, on Chegg.
- Use letters and variables in place of specific numbers.
- When randomizing the exam, don't just randomize numbers. Also randomize discrete parts of the problem. For instance, one version might have a problem like "maximize the volume of the box given its surface area" whereas another version might have "minimize the surface area of a box given its volume". (The numbers can even be the same for the two versions.)
- Avoid questions that consist of only simple computations. For example, instead of "calculate this integral," present students with some application in which they also have to set up a proper integral. "Write an integral expression that is equal to the probability that..." or "write a triple integral which is equal to the mass of the region" are good alternatives. There are online calculators that will not only solve many computational problems, but also give step by step solutions. Adding more words and applications to a problem makes it more difficult to cheat and also tests the real learning goal: do students know how to apply basic principles? (Ultimately, anyone can use a calculator, but only if you know what you want to calculate.)
- Remote Exams and Assessments: Tips for Exams and Alternative Assessments. Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences.
- Harris, Karen. “Alternatives Assessments: Beyond Exams,” Rutgers University Teaching and Learning with Technology. Slides and video.
- Alternatives to Traditional Testing. UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning.
- Smith Budhai, Stephanie. Fourteen Simple Strategies to Reduce Cheating on Online Examinations. Faculty Focus, May 11, 2020.
- Farrell, Matt, Maheu, Shannon. Why Open-book Tests Deserve a Place in Your Courses. Faculty Focus, April 5, 2019.
- Keeping Online Testing Honest? Or an Orwellian Overreach? Shawn Hubler, New York Times, May 10, 2020.
- Big Proctor. Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, May 11, 2020.
- Resources and Strategies for Teaching Remotely. U. Penn, Center for Teaching and Learning.
Below are descriptions of several online tools for administering quizzes and exams. We recommend you go with what you know first, especially if you don’t have time to invest in learning a new tool and instructing your students in its use.
Brown’s learning management system (LMS) has an easy-to-use, built-in quiz tool. This can be used for objective and subjective question types, with the former automatically graded by Canvas. Grading is done in Speedgrader. Some of the quiz features include,
- 11 question types
- Programmed feedback
- Rich text, images, video in questions/prompts
- Question grouping
- Questions reused across your courses
- Quiz can be assigned to individuals or the whole class
- Moderation (allow additional time/attempts for individuals)
Some configuration options can be used to increase testing integrity. Students should be made aware of how these options affect their experience before taking the quiz. Options include,
- Availability window
- Time limit
- Randomized questions and/or answers
- One question at a time
- Question locking (after answering)
Instructors looking to administer high-stakes exams may opt for Top Hat Test, which provides some level of exam security with a lock-out feature. While Top Hat Test works best in a face-to-face environment, instructors can administer a Top Hat Test virtually.
- 9 question types, including formula answers
- Automatic grading for multiple choice questions
- Randomized question order
- Customizable lock-out settings based on browser and screenshot activity
- PDF export of exam questions
- Canvas integration that allows for grade sync
- Unique test code for students to enter the exam
- To use Top Hat Test, faculty must first have their Top Hat Account set up and synced with their Canvas site.
- Create a top level folder that will hold the exam to make for easy Canvas sync later
- Faculty are encouraged to write clear instructions on the exams so students know the expectations.
- At the start of the exam, faculty must clearly communicate the unique test code to students, preferably through a Canvas Announcement with limited availability.
- Be sure to end the exam when the time limit for administering the exam has been met.
Gradescope is an assignment submission, grading, and analytics platform that leverages AI and a logical UI workflow to make grading more efficient and standardized. It is a stand-alone tool that can integrate with Canvas to synchronize course rosters and grades. Gradescope can accept instructor-scanned handwritten submissions from an in-class exam or submissions from students taking the exam remotely.
- No more paper submissions: Students can scan and upload handwritten assignments directly to Gradescope.
- Online Assignments (beta) Create auto-graded questions directly in Gradescope and eliminate the need for students to scan their answers and submit.
- AI Grouping: Gradescope can attempt to group student answers for certain answer types (multiple choice, math, and short answer). Once answers are grouped, graders need only grade submissions per group rather than every student.
- Dynamic rubrics: Grading rubrics are created as part of the grading process. These rubrics are shared across all graders. Any updates to the rubric will apply to all submissions.
- Easily handle regrade requests: Instructors can allow students to request regrades for specific questions. This ability can be toggled on or off.
- Grade by question rather than student: The gradescope user interface presents student work by question rather than by student. This means that graders will grade one (or more) question(s) across the entire class instead of all questions for a subset of students.
- Posting grades: Instructors can release grades to students with one click. Grades can also be posted to Canvas.
- Double assignment creation: In order for Gradescope to post scores to Canvas, instructors must create corresponding assignments in both Gradescope and Canvas.
- AI and assignment limitations: to receive the full benefit from Gradescope's AI, assignments must be constructed with a template. If student submissions do not match the layout of the original instructor template, the AI will fail.
Turnitin is a plagiarism detection tool that helps ensure that the writing students submit is their own work. It checks submitted work against online sources and returns an “originality report” with matched text linked to specific sources. It can exclude bibliographic information and quoted text. Turnitin could be enabled for traditional writing assignments as well as assessments that are adapted from in-class proctored exams, from objective or short answer type to longer essay type questions that are harder to share or lift from other sources without detection. Turnitin also integrates with the discussion tool Harmonize, so posts can be run through plagiarism detection (which is not possible with Canvas discussions).
Turnitin is enabled within Canvas and can only be used when students submit an assignment through Canvas. (Instructors cannot submit student papers to check for plagiarism.) The details of the results can be made available to students, which may help them understand how to properly cite source material (especially when used for a draft). The University of Wisconsin-Madison produced an excellent guide illustrating how to properly integrate source material into one’s writing: Quoting and Paraphrasing.
For setup instructions within Canvas, see this CIS knowledge base article.
Brame, C., (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Retrieved 6/2/2020.