Assessing Students Remotely

Questions About Implementation

Send an email to cerweb@jhu.edu if you want to discuss questions for implementation or ideas with a CER staff member.

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Changing how you assess students is one of the biggest challenges faculty face when asked to teach remotely. This document describes a range of strategies including alternatives to traditional exams along with technical solutions for conducting exams online. This list is not comprehensive, but shares commonly used approaches or inspire new ideas.

Remember, it is important that any changes in format still assess students based on learning objectives. Make sure the new format is not assessing students on skills you did not teach.

Quick Links:

Tests and Exams 

If you want to offer a final test or exam, below are technology solutions that can be used with helpful tips.  

Blackboard Tests 

The Blackboard test tool has many question types (multiple choice, essay, etc.); some are auto-graded by Blackboard (multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, etc.), and others require manual instructor or TA grading (short answer, essay). For more information about Blackboard tests, please review the following comprehensive document: https://uis.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Tests_and_Surveys_SP13.pdf
 

Academic Integrity in Bb
Use Blackboard test options that help to prevent violations in academic integrity, such as:

  • time limits
  • randomized questions and answers
  • force completion (students must finish test in one sitting)
  • and question pools
     

Accessibility Accommodations in Bb
Assign individual students extra time, extended availability, and multiple attempts on tests.  This flexibility can also be used to accommodate students in other time zones during a campus closure.
 

Online Exam Considerations in Bb
Consider the following options when you conduct an exam online:

  • Can you use an open-book exam to minimize academic misconduct concerns?
  • Can students peer assess their work?

When allowing extended-time exams, including take-home exams, content must be unique and involve higher-level critical thinking. In other words, the questions need to be original because if there is anything on the web that is similar, the students will find it! 
 

Remote Proctoring in Bb
Remote Proctoring with Blackboard Tests uses Respondus Lockdown Browser and Monitoring. The Respondus LockDown Browser® is a custom browser that locks down the student's computer when they take a Blackboard test. Features include:

  • Assessments are displayed full-screen and cannot be minimized 
  • Browser menu and toolbar options are removed, except for Back, Forward, Refresh and Stop 
  • Access to other applications is prevented, including messaging, screen-sharing, virtual machines, and remote desktops 
  • Printing and screen capture functions are disabled 
  • Copying and pasting anything to or from an assessment is prevented

More information is available at: https://cer.jhu.edu/tools-and-tech/respondus. You can also email cerweb@jhu.edu to have the tool enabled in your Blackboard course.

Live Exams with Zoom

Instructors can hold exams synchronously via Zoom. This simple method mimics for the onsite examination scenario and can reduce the risk of academic misconduct. We recommend asking students to turn on their webcams during the exam and for the instructor to record the exam session in Zoom. More information on Zoom is available at: https://cer.jhu.edu/tools-and-tech/zoom 

Panopto Quizzes 

Instructors can also embed short quizzes within a recorded Panopto session. More information about Panopto Quizzes can be found at: https://support.panopto.com/s/article/How-to-Add-a-Quiz-to-a-Video

General Assessment Strategies 

Discuss Academic Integrity
Whichever method of assessment you are using, the end of the semester is a good time to remind students of your expectations for academic integrity. Some instructors have drafted academic integrity statements or pledges and will ask students to sign them before taking a test or submitting another kind of assessment. Here is an example of one such statement being used in the Biology department:

Throughout its history, Johns Hopkins University has enjoyed a distinguished reputation for academic excellence and integrity. Each member of the University bears a personal responsibility to uphold the ethical standards of the institution.

I acknowledge that I am aware of the Johns Hopkins University policy concerning academic honesty, plagiarism, and cheating. I further attest that the work I am submitting with this exam is solely my own and was developed during the exam. I have used no notes, materials, or other aids. Before I click "begin", I am (1) closing all windows and tabs on my computer except for this one, (2) putting away all my notes and textbook, and (3) turning off my phone and other electronics.

We suggest that you send the statement out to students in advance of the assessment and ask them to read and return it to you with any questions they have.  You might also want to use some class time to discuss your expectations and remind students why the standards of academic integrity still apply and matter in the remote teaching context.
 

Student Choice 
Consider allowing students the choice of how they will be assessed. For example, students could choose to take a test through software or as an oral exam. This may mitigate student anxiety about taking a high-stakes assessment in a new format. 
 

Change the Weighting of Assessments
You may want to change how final grades are calculated if you are concerned about the academic integrity risks associated with high-stakes final exams given remotely.  This should only apply to future assignments so students can adjust their study strategies to the new weighting scheme.  For example, consider increasing the weight of the remaining homework assignments and decreasing the weight of the final exam.
 

Content Changes
Decide if you need to provide students with supplementary material or instruction to prepare them for an assessment in a new format.  

Alternatives to Tests and Exams 

Use lower-stakes quizzes
Replace a comprehensive final with a series of lower-stakes quizzes.  Use weekly quizzes instead of one comprehensive test.  This will reduce your reliance on an issue-free technological delivery of a high-stakes test offered once at the end of the semester. 
 

Use more homework-like assignments 
If you assign homework, consider structuring the final assessment as a longer homework assignment. 
 

Analysis Memo 
Send students readings, datasets, or other content to analyze and apply course concepts by summarizing in a short paper.   
 

Oral Exams
In smaller classes or those with adequate numbers of teaching assistants, consider using Zoom to give students oral assessments.  Use a pool of questions to prevent students who've tested early from sharing answers.  Oral exams may be stressful for students who haven’t experienced them before. You may also need to provide time for students to develop an answer.  Consider sending students the assessment ahead of time to prepare, so that the instructor or TA can then ask the students to share and explain their answers to ensure they truly understand it. 
 

Student Presentations 
Ask students to present on a course concept or topic. Be sure to provide supportive, constructive feedback that also highlights the successful elements of the presentation.  When possible, provide a specific example so students understand your expectations. There are several technologies available to facilitate online presentations. 

  • Zoom – Students give live presentations to the class. 
  • Panopto – Students can pre-record a presentation for the class and upload it to Blackboard. 
  • VoiceThread – Students can pre-record a presentation and upload it to VoiceThread. Within a VoiceThread discussion, students have the option to reply privately to an instructor's comment or question.  When they do, only you (the instructor) will be able to see their responses, and the other classmates in the discussion will not.  As the instructor, you can also reply privately to individual student responses, if you so choose.  This is one mechanism by which you can solicit & assess individual student input within an online discussion platform.  Here's a link that explains how private commenting works: https://voicethread.com/howto/private-reply-to-a-comment
     

Final Projects
Conduct a more open-format or practical final assessment through a project assignment. Options for final projects include: 

  • Students create a public-facing digital resource on the course’s topics, such as an interactive website, a blog, a map, a visualization, a digital application, a short film, an educational game, or a podcast. 

  • Alternatively, students create a public-facing analog resource such as a periodical or zine, a how-to guide, a creative educational performance, a poster or flyer organizing information into a one-sheet, or a public installation. 

  • Students pursue independent research with options for presenting their findings, such as in an interview, an infograph, a pitch-deck or presentation with visual aids, an executive summary, or a policy paper.  

  • Instructors organize the class into teams that collectively complete a final project using a team contract to divide up the labor for the project among team members. 

Be sure to carefully plan the terms of your assignment to develop your method for assessment and to make sure students will be able to follow instructionsProject assessments are typically most effective for students when the instructor provides checkpoints, or opportunities for students to check in about their progress and whether they are on track to meet project deadlines. Here’s a link that provides guidance for designing a digital assessment that is essential for the final project format:  https://cer.jhu.edu/files/TeachingDigests_Digital-Assignment-Considerations.pdf

Lesson plans 
Assign students to develop a lesson plan on a course topic that allows you to evaluate their conceptual understanding.
 

Papers 
Ask students to apply their learning by writing a paper. 
 

Debate activity
Ask students to debate a course concept live using Zoom or asynchronously using a discussion board.  Be sure to structure the debate format so that students know how much and in what format to engage.  

Alternative Approaches to Assessment
A
lternative grading methods use a more participatory assessment process, which encourages students toward metacognition about their learning and greater intention in their work on particular skills and tasks. Typically, the instructor makes clear that they have final say over the grade that is recorded with the university, yet invites students into the assessment process throughout the course. Below are options that provide alternatives to standardized grade bands to consider: 

  • Contract gradingThe instructor develops a “contract” to provide to students for all of the course’s assessments that outlines how much and which work must be completed in order to receive which grade for the course. The student agrees to the terms of this itemized system of assessment as a contract, leaving students to decide for themselves how they want to approach the work for the course and which grade they wish to aim for. 

  • PortfoliosIn this model, formative assessments from throughout the course are presented as a body of work completed by each student that represents their learning progress throughout the course. At the conclusion of the course, students provide a designated selection of work completed over the course, which the instructor then evaluates holistically and in dialogue with course learning objectives. 

  • Self-assessmentAfter completing a formative or summative assessment, students evaluate their own work, suggesting a grade they should receive along with written justification for it. The instructor then evaluates this self-assessment in dialogue with the student work itself, the instructions provided, and the student’s progress and effort toward the course’s learning goals. 

  • Peer assessmentStudents use a rubric or another tool, such as a set of guided questions provided by the instructor, to evaluate the work of their peers. This feedback is then used to weight and inform the instructor’s grading alongside their evaluation of student work. 

  • Process lettersvideos, or audio recordingsStudents write an account of their learning and work process in the course or for a particular assessment. This self-evaluation is then used as the basis for evaluating their learning alongside the student work itself. 

  • Student-devised rubricsWith guidance or templates provided by the instructor, students generate rubrics they deem appropriate for a particular assignment. This rubric is then used to generate grades for the instructor to weight and finalize. 

Assignments 

Blackboard Assignments

The Blackboard assignment tool allows students to upload files to be graded individually, similar to a ‘drop box.’ The instructor provides directions for students and chooses assignment settings, such as due date, length of availability of assignment, points possible, etc. 
 

Blackboard Assignments via Turnitin
Students submit assignments through Turnitin (plagiarism detection software), which is integrated into Blackboard. Instructors receive an originality report for each submission.  

 

 

Special Thanks to Prof. Bob Lessick of KSAS’s Advanced Academic Program for sharing several of these strategies.  You can view a recording of a faculty discussion about online assessment strategies that Prof. Lessick led.