Guidelines for Selecting and Designing Assessments for Remote Courses
A key part of all courses are the assignments. Presentations, reports, case studies, essays, quizzes (and more!): they’re important to help the students learn and give them a good gauge of how well they’re understanding the course materials or acquiring and refining the required skills.
In remote courses, it’s helpful to keep the following guidelines in mind when selecting and designing assignments.
Make sure that the assessments are relevant to the learning goals for the course.
Students are more likely to do an assessment well if a) it lines up with the learning that they’ve already done in the course and b) they understand why they’re doing it. You can help with the former by selecting the kind of assessment that tests for or matches the course’s learning goals; you can help with the latter by connecting the assignment to those goals and by explaining why those goals themselves are important for your program or for the students and their understanding of their world.
Try to make them interesting.
Interesting assignments – relevant, challenging, or perhaps even connected to real-world applications of the subject matter – usually get students’ attention, so they can show (and see for themselves!) the learning that they’ve already done in a course.
This sense of interest can come in a lot of forms; perhaps it’s students selecting the topic they’re interested in most. Perhaps it’s a long-form simulation. Perhaps it’s seeing how a subject relates to or explains the world beyond the course.
Decide how much choice students should have in their assessments.
One of the main tenets of Universal Design for Learning is to accept multiple means of expression from students. When appropriate decide whether it’s appropriate for students to showcase their learning in different formats. Can a student choose different formats for a presentation (a script, a recorded video, narrated slides) and still demonstrate that they’ve met the learning goals for the assessment or even the course? Can a student choose from different kinds of exams and still demonstrate their knowledge and skills? Multiple options might make it possible for more students to be successful on the assessment.
Be sure that students have a chance to practice the skills needed for the assessment.
Good assignments – and ones that encourage student success and academic honesty – are ones in which students feel they have a good chance to be successful. So, if the exam is asking students to respond to a case study, then be sure that you’ve worked case studies into the course.
Consider designing assessments that give students a tangible piece of work that showcases their understanding and skills.
Sometimes it makes sense to have students work on an assessment (like an auto-graded quiz) that confirms their understanding of course content. But there are other kinds of assessments during which students might produce something tangible, which showcases what they can do – and makes that public, within or beyond the course. Consider a gallery of poster presentations, a collection of essays, a series of blog posts.
Aim for assessments that elicit the right amount of stress.
There is a good amount of stress, even when it comes to assessments. Assessments are too stressful when they’re too difficult or weighted too heavily – and that can lead to a higher number of students who don’t do well or who even turn to forms of academic dishonesty. Too little stress, and the assessments might seem to have little value; they’re just hoops to jump through. Or (to switch metaphors) they’re disposable assessments and not worth students’ efforts.
So as instructors we need to find assessments that have just the right amount of stress, so students see their value. So, aim your assessments at the right level by checking them with colleagues. Also: try to scatter assessments throughout the course.
You can also help students succeed with these assessments by chunking and scaffolding your assignments. Make sure one leads to the next. If you’re having students write essays (for example), have students work on a proposal, then an outline, then draft, then a final essay.
Give students clear instructions and criteria.
In a face-to-face class, we have a lot of chances to clarify – for everyone – the expectations of an assignment. When teaching remotely, some of that spontaneous communication will be lost or hidden, occurring by email or tucked away in a section of the discussion board.
So, when teaching remotely, describe in detail:
- what you want students to do,
- why you want them to do it,
- how to do it,
- when to do it,
- what criteria you’ll use when marking (and what makes an exceptional assignment), and
- how to submit it.
Written by: Joel Baetz and Terry Greene
Last Updated: 1 September 2020