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Teaching Using Canvas: Online Assessment Options

Online Assessment Options

What does assessment look like in an online context?

Although the types of assessments that often first come to mind are a test, paper, or lab exercise, many other activities can be used for assessment, including portfolios, discussion forums, concept maps, diagrams, and presentations. Any tangible output from a learning activity can be assessed. Your choice of output—and the activity designed to generate that output—should be determined by your learning outcomes. This is just as true in the online environment as it is in the traditional classroom.

Whether you are looking to adapt a traditional assessment to the online classroom or you are looking for new ways to incorporate technology into your classroom assessments, you can use the box below to guide the creation of your assessments.

Four Types of Assessment

Formative assessments are designed to provide feedback to both students and instructors about how well the learning process is going. Examples of formative assessment include self-tests, think-pair-share activities, and other low-risk assignments that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Another option for formative assessment is to develop a larger, summative assessment and break it into smaller components that can be turned in throughout the semester. This allows you to catch and address misconceptions, challenge students’ early analyses, and provide the opportunity for them to revise and resubmit each piece in a unified whole at the end of the semester or unit.

Formative assessment options, such as ungraded self-tests using the Canvas Quizzes tool, think-pair-share activities in discussion forums or group spaces, offer ways for students to assess their own understanding of course concepts. Online courses also lend themselves to multiple-choice or short-answer "Understanding Checks" that are graded automatically.  After completing one, students can receive feedback based on the answer they chose in a multiple-choice section or compare their answers to the suggested answer in a short answer section. Although a grade may or may not be recorded in a grade book, such activities provide students with feedback on how well they understand course concepts. For more on setting up these types of assessments, see the Canvas Guide on the different types of quizzes available in the Quizzing Tool.

An often overlooked option for formative assessment is peer review and feedback. When adequately scaffolded, peer review and critique can be a learning activity for both the student giving and the student receiving the peer review. The Assignments tool in Canvas provides options for blind peer review, or you can set up a Discussion where students post their thoughts or explanations or examples and then provide feedback to the person posting immediately above them. Students can be split into small groups where they can share an initial draft of a paper or project, each student provides feedback to all the other group members, and then they work together to synthesize their efforts into a group report. Using the Group spaces in Canvas allows the instructor to see all of the initial drafts and student discussions while keeping each group separated from the other groups.

Summative assessment is designed to provide evidence that students have achieved a learning outcome or otherwise gained skills or knowledge throughout the course. End-of-semester exams, projects, portfolios, and presentations are often used to summatively assess students' knowledge and skills. Courses that use a blend of summative and formative assessments provide more consistent support for learning than relying exclusively on a midterm and a final exam.

Final papers, projects, and portfolios have a variety of options in an online class.  It's easy to incorporate media into Assessments, Discussions, and Pages in project instructions, such as presenting a video case for analysis, and in student work such as recorded presentations, interviews, and demonstrations. A videoconferencing tool like Collaborate Ultra inside Canvas or Zoom can be used for synchronous assessments such as oral exams in languages. Other tools such as the webcam recorder in MyMedia or Kaltura Capture allow for recording individual video presentations or interactions such as mock counseling sessions and other role-play scenarios that students can submit to an assignment or share in a discussion.

An authentic assessment asks students to demonstrate skills and knowledge by performing realistic tasks within the discipline. It provides opportunities to practice, consult resources, get feedback, and refine performances and products. Well-designed authentic assessments:

  • are realistic, using real-life situations with constraints, purposes, and audiences that impact what needs to be done.
  • require judgment and innovation to effectively solve unstructured problems
  • assess students' ability to use their knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task as a whole.

An authentic assessment commonly uses strategies such as case studies, simulations, consulting (where students work with a real organization to explore a problem and recommend solutions that are evaluated by both the instructor and the organizational partner), internships, and service-learning.  However, depending on the discipline, authentic assessment can leverage simpler tools.  For example:

  • situating statistical questions in the context of fantasy sports over several weeks of a season.
  • sending emails in a foreign language to request information about a travel destination and working with a small group to determine which destination would be the best vacation spot.

Traditional assessment (defined mainly as discrete-item testing) tends to emphasize the development of a body of knowledge or skill. Does a student know the who, what, when, and where? Traditional assessment strategies are helpful when you want students to identify one best answer and/or concretely target isolated skills.

Something to keep in mind is that assessment methods do not have to line up with assessment approaches. For example, multiple-choice test items can be developed to draw attention to contextual factors in an authentic case. In the same way, artificial and minimally contextualized cases can be used to identify who, what, when, and where without asking students two work with holistic, complex problems.

Online testing using the Canvas Quizzes tool provides auto-grading and auto-feedback features with a wider range of options than a blue book or scantron testing. You can provide video, audio, and images as part of a question, and students can record or upload videos, audio, and images as part of their answers. You can set different feedback for different incorrect answers and even reroute students to a review page explaining the question in more depth. 

However, there are also drawbacks. Many faculty express concerns about the potential for cheating in an online class. Where a faculty member might make one test and deliver it once in a proctored room for a face-to-face course, a similar fully online test may be delivered over time. Remote proctoring services are available to 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, but they are expensive.

If you do use online testing features, here are some options to consider:

  • Create multiple question banks for a single test. Break down the questions that are delivered to students, so no one gets the exact same exam, but all are tested on similar concepts and at similar levels of difficulty.
  • Randomize the order of questions to discourage cheating.
  • Randomize the correct answers to discourage cheating.
  • Use an honor statement at the beginning of each test, forcing the students to check "yes" or "no" that they understand the academic dishonesty policy, and they have not received assistance.
  • For more options specific to the Canvas Quizzes tool, please see the Canvas Quizzes Instructor Guide.

Creating Assessments & Assignments in Canvas

Adding Quizzes to Kaltura Videos

You can easily add quiz questions to a Kaltura Capture using these instructions, and you can add quizzes to the Canvas grade book using these instructions.

Creating a Peer-Review Assignment

A peer-reviewed assignment enables students to provide feedback on another student's assignment submission. Peer reviews are a tool that fosters communication between students and can help students master the concepts of a course and learn from each other. Peer reviews can be assigned to show student names or can take place anonymously. For more information on how to use peer reviews in your courses, see How do I use peer review assignments in a course?