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Blog 163

Blog 163

Alternatives to Traditional Assessment

By Eliana Elkhoury

Have you been wondering what alternative assessments are? Have you been thinking about different ways of assessing students? Did you ask yourself what you should consider if you were to move away from exams? What methods, other than the proctored exams, can you use to assess students?

We have curated a list of 35 alternative assessments for you. In this document, we provide a description of the alternative assessment, benefits, challenges and solutions, rubrics, examples from instructors, articles, and technology tools. You can find the document HERE. This document is work in progress, keep an eye out for more updates.

Below I am going to provide a brief summary about alternative assessments.

What are alternative assessments?

An evaluation of what the student has learned that doesn’t rely on midterms and finals. It allows the instructors to examine what the student can do instead of what the student knows. In addition it allows you to see how the students did something instead of looking at the final result.

Benefits of alternative assessments

There are many benefits to alternative assessments, Here are three major benefits. Alternative assessments allow instructors to assess the skills developed by the students in addition to the knowledge acquired. They also  provide a realistic setting for examination similar to the ones used in their future jobs. And guess what? Alternative assessments promote academic integrity, they are designed to be specific and unique, they ask students to apply higher-order thinking skills, they allow the instructor to ask students to submit their work in multiple stages which provides multiple opportunities for feedback and review, and they can allow the students to voice their opinion about the choice of topic and/or the choice of assessment type.

The importance of rubrics in alternative assessments

Ryerson University provided a detailed description of the benefits of rubrics:

Rubrics play an important role in alternative assessment, they are a key factor in the success of alternative assessment. On one hand, they provide clear expectations and criteria of success for the learner, they also the instructors to give specific and constructive feedback thus allowing the students to identify their strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, it helps reduce the time needed for grading, helps the instructor identify common weaknesses across the class and adjust support accordingly, and helps improve consistency in grading.

In this document, you will find examples of rubrics for each of the suggested assessments, you will also find resources that help you create your own rubrics.

Guidelines for alternative assessments

Here is a list of guidelines inspired by our own experience and the list of guidelines provided by Brigham Young University:

  • Specify which learning outcome you want to assess.
  • Include the content as well as the skills that students need to possess in order to successfully complete the assessment.
  • Determine what you will assess using objective assessment (a clear right or wrong answer) and when you will assess using performance assessment
  • Decide what guidance you will provide to the learners: before the task, and during the task (some examples could be documentation, handbooks, examples of good and poor submissions, a low stake submission at the beginning, check in in the middle of the assessment)
  • Try the assessment yourself and make revisions as necessary, also take reflective notes during the semester to use during while planning for the following semesters
  • Create a detailed rubric and share it with the students in advance

Assessment workload and students effort

Dr. Alan Fielding from Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK wrote an article about alternative assessment workloads and how some assessments compared to essays.

You can read more about assessment workload HERE

Here is an example:

Equivalent to 1000 essay wordsOral presentation 20 minutes
Essay in foreign language 300 words
Examination or timed test 1 hour
Group presentation 10 minutes per member
Group report 750 words per member
Reflective journal or learning log 2000 – 2500 words
Clinical assessment 10 minutes

In addition, Dr. Fielding provided an estimate of student effort for each assessment type:

  • 1 hour of examination is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort (1h assessment + 9h student preparation)
  • A 1500 words essay is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort(1h writing/typing + 9h student preparation)
  • A practical report is equivalent to 5 hours of student effort (2h Writing/drawing graphs + 3h student preparation)
  • A 10 minute oral presentation is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort (10 minutes + and 5h student preparation)
  • An individual poster is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort ( 4h assembly (including drawing figures etc.) + 6 h design (including gathering and organizing information))
  • A group poster is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort (4h assembly (including drawing figures etc.) + 6h  design (including gathering and organizing information))
  • 1 hour of MCQ is equivalent to 10 hours of student effort (1h assessment + 9h preparation)
  • Tutorial preparation is equivalent to 5 hours of student effort (1 hour preparation + 4 hour writing and collecting information)

Questions to ask yourself

Here are some questions that you want to ask yourself before you choose an alternative assessment:

  • What do you want to test: content knowledge, or the ability to apply that knowledge, or both? What kind of content knowledge should students be able to demonstrate and at what level?
  • Do you want to assess a product that a student has produced, or the process by which they produced it?
  • Do you want to assess any of the following: writing ability, speaking skills, creativity, use of technology, or collaboration?
  • What higher order thinking skills do you want students to develop and be able to demonstrate?
  • Did you include more than one assessment type in your course?

Ask yourself the following questions after choosing your assessment:

  • Did I provide clear assessment criteria/rubrics?
  • Did I provide clear instructions to the students on how to complete the assessment?
  • What support will I provide to students?
  • Is there a simpler alternative that still allows students to demonstrate their achievement against the learning outcomes?
  • Are there accessibility concerns with the assessment? Are all the students able to access it equally? If not, are there ways you could make this assessment more inclusive? Would you consider providing multiple options?
  • Did I provide clear information about submission, marking and deadlines?

References & Links

Alternative Assessments - Ryerson University

Assessment Workload and Equivalences

Learning and Teaching in Action: Assessment

Using Alternative Assessment

About the Author

Eliana completed her PhD in Learning Sciences at the University of Calgary and is now an Educational Developer with the Teaching Commons. Her research interests include a variety of subjects such as innovation in teaching and learning, teacher education, adult education, online education, education technology, and intercultural education. Eliana worked on multiple SoTL interdisciplinary projects, she is passionate about student life and working with international students.

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