How to Best Conduct Online Assessments

August 24, 2020

Like many schools across the globe, Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS) in Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada had to quickly adapt to an online learning model. The move to remote learning included determining the best way to engage students across time zones (RNS is a boarding school that attracts students from all over the world); combat Zoom fatigue for both faculty and students; and effectively assess students online.  

In her recent UC20 presentation, Making the Grade: Online Assessment Best Practices, RNS’s Director of Technology and Learning Initiatives Tammy Earle, provided best practices that her school used for developing effective online assessments.

1. Balance summative and formative assessments.

In April, when the school administration realized that the rest of the school year would be remote, RNS held professional development meetings with teachers over Zoom to discuss assessment strategies for both summative and formative assessment. Earle said the teachers could easily find ways to develop summative assessments, but they struggled with how to conduct formative assessments online. These formative assessments are crucial, said Earle, because they provide valuable data a teacher can use to adjust his or her lesson to a student’s needs. “Just because we’re online doesn’t mean we don’t want to adapt our teaching for our students,” she said.  

To help gauge where students are in a lesson, RNS teachers used online discussion boards in Blackbaud Learning Management SystemTM. Students had to answer specific questions and reply to at least two of their classmates. Earle said teachers saw increased student engagement with many students posting links or images to help support their point. Teachers noticed that some students who were typically quiet on Zoom calls were more active on the discussion boards.

Teachers also used online quizzes for both summative and formative assessment. For a formative check-in, teachers would design a quiz with just two or three questions to check students’ understanding. Earle said teachers also made use of the new Blackbaud feature that allows them to set different time limits for different students, which was helpful for students with various learning abilities.

Both students and teachers found the online quizzes valuable, said Earle. “Students get immediate feedback, and the teacher gets a breakdown of what students understood,” she said.  “These quizzes allow teachers to collect data and change the course on the fly based on that information.”

2. Get creative.

Moving student assessments online can be a daunting task, but it also allows for some creativity in how your school measures student success. At RNS, teachers used technology in different ways to engage students and gauge their understanding.

A Chemistry teacher took his iPad into the school’s lab and walked students through a live, step-by-step experiment. After each step, he asked students for their thoughts on what would happen next in the experiment. Math teachers used a “flipped classroom” model. They posted a video of the lesson, which students could replay to reinforce concepts at their own pace, and then during class time teachers and students worked together on activities and assessments to help amplify what they learned.

Other examples include a middle school English class using Flipgrid to record dramatic readings of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to assess their knowledge of the play, and a Spanish teacher’s Amazing Race activity, which broke students up into teams and had them compete in different activities that involved researching various Spanish-speaking countries and reading and writing in Spanish. “The students were so motivated,” said Earle. “They couldn’t wait to come to class.”

3. Use various methods to ensure academic integrity.

When it came to online assessment, one major concern among faculty was enforcing academic integrity. RNS tackled this challenge in a variety of ways. Faculty made many exams “open book” tests; they timed certain tasks or assignments so that students wouldn’t have time to ask their friends for help; they used randomized questions so students couldn’t work together; and some Zoom proctored online tests. Earle said when teachers proctor a test over Zoom, the students all have their webcams on while taking the test. The teacher is there online not necessarily to ensure students aren’t cheating, but to act as a resource if a student has a question or problem during the assessment.

One RNS math teacher had students submit short videos explaining how they got their answer to demonstrate their knowledge of the concept. “That’s what it’s all about,” said Earle. “It’s not always the final score on the quiz but checking if the student understands how to do it.”

For more insight, watch Tammy Earle’s UC20 presentation, Making the Grade: Online Assessment Best Practices

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