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Teaching Using Canvas: Planning Assessments

Planning Assessments

In an online course, students need to receive frequent feedback on how they are doing. Are they learning what they are supposed to be learning? Are they achieving the learning outcomes? The most effective way to ensure that students get the feedback they need to stay on track is through a comprehensive, balanced assessment strategy that includes both formative and summative assessments.

What should I consider when I create assessments?

Course assignments and Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), such as a poll or survey on the muddiest point, pro/con grid, focused paraphrasing, or a concept map, translate well to the online environment and provide opportunities for gathering assessment data. 

As you incorporate these techniques, it's important to ensure that you're assessing more than whether or not your students remember individual facts. Many of these CATs ask students to use what they remember by applying it, evaluating it, or creating something new with it. There are many CATs examples available. One great resource is the 50 CATs by Angelo and Cross

When designing online assignments, you can leverage multimedia resources to support student learning and motivation. For example, students can record and share video or narrated presentations asynchronously using tools built into MyMedia in Canvas like Kaltura Capture, or you can gather students together in a video conference and allow them to present live to the class.

When having students turn in essays, analyses, or similar items in Assignments, having a rubric for those assignments provides students an opportunity to self-assess their work in a formative way before they submit it for grading. For more on the Canvas rubrics tool, see How do I add rubrics to a course?

If you do use more traditional online testing, testing tools such as those built into a learning management system like quizzes also allow you to provide instant feedback that students can see after they take the test. When you write each question, you can also build in the information that directs students to where in the class readings they can find more information about a particular topic and/or explains the correct answer. As the test creator, you have the option of when you want this automated feedback to become available. Most faculty make the feedback available only after everyone has taken the test. Some faculty use mastery tests to encourage students to study the material for understanding. As soon as the students finish the test, they can see the answers and the feedback to check their learning. They can then retake the test until they pass with a given minimum score signifying mastery of the content.

Why is it important to align assessments with learning outcomes?

Alignment between assessments and desired learning outcomes is foundational if your assessments are to be valid. Just like in a research study where you want to make sure that your research instrument is measuring what you want it to measure, aligning your assessments to your learning outcomes allows you to ensure you're assessing what you want to assess. Biggs and Tang (2011) describe the constructive alignment of three key components: measurable, clearly-stated learning outcomes; assessment tasks that allow students to show to what extent they have reached the learning outcomes; and activities (including content and practice) that help students reach the learning outcomes. Assessments that are aligned with your learning outcomes provide dependable evidence as to how well students are reaching the desired outcomes. 

Clearly aligning assessments with desired learning outcomes also reinforces to students what needs to be mastered and helps them track their progress in the course. Students pay attention to what you test. For example, if your intent is for students to be able to apply, critique, or evaluate, but your assignments and exams ask students to remember, identify, and describe, then your assessments aren't aligned with your desired learning outcomes. Asking students to describe a concept doesn't encourage them to evaluate the concept in a particular context and doesn't provide evidence that they can evaluate the concept.

Backwards Design requires that assignments (and everything else) are aligned to desired learning outcomes instead of creating learning outcomes based on what you are assessing. Starting with assessments and extrapolating learning outcomes from them is the definition of "teaching to the test."

Proctored vs. Non-Proctored Assignments

It can be extremely tempting for students to cheat when taking a quiz or test online. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure high academic integrity in your online course.

How can I set up a proctor for an online assessment?

Remote proctoring services allow students to take assessments at any time using their own computer while proctors monitor and record their webcams, physical environments, and desktops. These services provide secure authentication to help ensure assessment integrity. Although these services are often expensive, the costs of the service can be charged to the student, the department, or a combination of the two. The cost for external proctoring varies depending on the level of proctoring you need and the provider you use.

There are several different levels of proctoring. The most basic level is simple identity authentication while the highest level involves a live human proctor monitoring the student via webcam during the entire assessment. Issues with proctoring include student concerns about privacy, increased anxiety because of the unfamiliar proctoring situation, and, particularly for residential students taking online courses, difficulty in finding a private room in which to take the assessment. It is important to balance the costs and benefits of proctoring carefully before committing to using the higher levels of these services.

At UW-Superior, there have been several online proctoring pilot programs implemented. Funding for proctoring is limited and the future of ongoing online proctoring service is as yet undetermined. For questions specific to online proctoring services please contact

How can I ensure academic integrity during an un-proctored online assessment?

If you opt for an un-proctored assessment, check out these tips from the UW Extended Campus:

  • Limit time: By placing time restrictions on an assessment, you limit students' time to look up answers.
  • Use objective exams as formative assessments: When designing your course, consider using un-proctored exams as practice or learning activities instead of formal assessments. 
  • Include a certification question: A yes/no certification question at the beginning of an assessment reminds students of their academic integrity requirements. For example, "I guarantee that this is my independent work. I will not consult with anyone or discuss the contents of this exam with anyone. To do otherwise would constitute academic dishonestly."
  • Does your question pass the "Google test?": Search online for the answer to the assessment question you have drafted. If the question is written in such a way that it is easy to find the answer through a search engine, then consider revising it.
  • Use scenario-based questions: The answers of these types of questions are unique to each question and difficult to find using a search engine.

Follow this link to review a variety of options for un-proctored assessments.


Biggs, J.B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. 4th ed. Buckingham: Open University Press.