Assessment Guide

Moving to remote teaching provides you an opportunity to rethink some of your assessments. This guide will discuss various ways that you can assess students in an online environment. As you work through this material, consider not just the assessments that you currently use, but what your students should be able to do to demonstrate their learning. The tools and resources available online offer a host of new options that you may find even more applicable than your current assessment strategies.

Guiding Principles

Taking face-to-face teaching to remote instruction with such short notice presents both students and faculty with challenges that are unique to this situation. Perhaps the biggest question is about adjusting assessment, so we’ve created this document with a few guiding principles in mind. 

Flexibility & Empathy

At the beginning of the semester, neither students nor faculty were expecting to move their face-to-face classes to remote education halfway through the semester. The current situation presents challenges and worries for everyone, from healthcare concerns (both physical and mental) to financial struggles. Students at UNL are finding themselves without some resources and often with limitations on the resources they do still have access to. Students who have returned home (wherever “home” may be) may be facing additional challenges including quarantines (mandatory or self-imposed), caring for family members, the distractions of children or younger siblings, less reliable or unreliable access to internet and/or mobile data, isolated from friends and colleagues, possibly suffering financial difficulties because their workplaces have shut down … The list goes on. 

We simply can’t see all the struggles students may be facing. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to give consideration while creating deadlines, work schedules and projects, to the situations in which students might find themselves. Giving students flexibility to complete assignments--whether that’s choosing which assignments they can complete or giving more flexible deadlines--can provide some relief to those students facing a multitude of new struggles. Empathy goes a long way, too, in helping students achieve their educational goals, so as you are revising deadlines and assessments, it may help to think about options for deadline extensions and the possibilities for alternative assessments. 


Whatever changes in assessments you choose to make, communicating the details of the assessments that you create and distribute is absolutely critical. Try to open as many avenues of communication as possible by asking students, if they are able, to connect other communication options in Canvas (e.g. alternative emails or text messaging). Also ask students to configure their notification settings to insure they receive any immediate updates, announcements, and messages in Canvas notifications. 

Whenever possible, involve your students in this discussion and in these choices as well. Solicit their feedback through a discussion or a survey, and then acknowledge that feedback and discuss with your students how their feedback is shaping the class moving forward. Giving students a bit of control over (or at least a voice in) the situation will provide them some peace of mind going forward, and creating and encouraging that human dialogue can ease the transition for instructors, too.

Academic Integrity and Rigor

Flexibility and empathy do not preclude academic integrity. Academic integrity can still exist in creating easily parsed content and assessments for students. Considering your course objectives and what is most essential for students to learn in the remainder of the course, developing alternative assessments (or adjusting existing assessments), and providing students with clear communication about expectations for the course moving forward can all encourage continued academic integrity and still ensure the academic rigor in your course. With this in mind, we’ve curated the strategies below.

General Suggestions

  • Less might be more: What do you really want your students to know? What do they really need to be assessed on? Think back to your course objectives and use those to guide your adjustments.

  • Give students options: let them choose the assessments they want to complete. This flexibility can provide them with a little relief from uncertainty because it allows them to complete a project that utilizes their strengths and interests, and it can make grading more interesting for you, too.

  • Use rubrics whenever possible. This alleviates student worry by outlining your specific expectations and criteria, and it can help to streamline your grading.

  • We recommend sticking with assessments that can be done asynchronously. For example, if you are considering having students do presentations in Zoom, it might be easier to have them record video presentations or voice-over PowerPoints and submit them in a Canvas discussion board.

Alternative Assessments

Depending on the size of your course, you may be able to eliminate or limit your use of multiple choice based exams in favor of papers, videos, or other projects students can complete at home. Start by considering which learning objectives you hope students will demonstrate with this assessment. What are some other ways that students can demonstrate that they have met those objectives? 

Here are a few examples of alternative assessments. There are pieces here that may not be relevant to everyone, but we wanted to provide a breadth of options to consider.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are usually informal, ungraded or low-stakes assignments used to check students’ understanding of course concepts. While they are most often used to “form” the instructor’s instructional plan (i.e. whether it’s time to move on to new concepts or spend a little more time on something), they can also be used to stand in for or supplement summative assessments (which test the sum of a student’s knowledge). Following are some sample strategies:

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments evaluate the “sum” of a student’s understanding of the course materials. These types of assessments are often higher-stakes and come at the end of an instructional unit. Some common summative assessments are exams and researched papers, but they can also include larger projects including videos and portfolios. Following are some tips to consider when developing these types of assessments:

  • Non-multiple choice exam with real data

  • Make the exam take-home or remove time limits (usually combined with essay questions and/or data sets as above)

  • Case Study completed in a paper

  • Reflection papers (like one-minute papers, but more detailed)

  • Visual projects (e.g. posters, videos)

If any of these strategies seem appropriate to you, or if you would like to explore other approaches to online assessment for your course, contact your Instructional Designer.

Hands-On Learning 

If your course includes hands-on learning experiences, you may be wondering how you will meet those same learning objectives in a remote learning environment. To help you, we have created this "Rethinking Assessment of Hands-On Learning" guide

Quizzes and Exams

The Canvas Quiz tool can be used to create tests and exams that consist of multiple question types (multiple-choice, essay, true/false, etc.). You can utilize the quiz tool to create shorter, low-stakes quizzes that cover smaller amounts of material or exams that cover larger chunks of material. 

If you want to help prevent your students from utilizing their textbook during a quiz/exam, consider setting a time limit on the quiz in Canvas. To help prevent cheating, you can create question groups in Canvas and set your quiz/exam to pull random questions from various question groups. This randomization helps make sure your students don’t all get the same exam.   To learn more about rapidly developing items and how to do this in Canvas, see this guide

Scanned or photographed exam: If your exam normally requires students to submit something that is hand-written or drawn (complex formulas, charts, diagrams, etc.), you can have the students draw the material out on paper and then scan or photograph it with their phones and submit it via Canvas. To accomplish this, you need to add a “File Upload” question type to your Canvas exam. You may also want to send your students instructions for scanning their response with their phones.

The University has secured remote proctoring software called Respondus Monitor which provides you the ability to have your students monitored while they take exams. The technology does require some setup for students (Student Guide PDF) as well as requiring students to stream live video to the Respondus servers for the duration of their exam. If you do feel that you need to utilize this tool, you can follow these instructions to set it up. Note: we recommend sending the student instructions in the “What to tell your students” section via your normal course communication channel (announcement, email, etc) as well as posting these instructions in your Canvas exam. We continue to encourage you to find assessment solutions other than online proctoring.

Technical Resources

With so many possibilities, it can understandably be overwhelming to implement these strategies. These resources can help you get started with developing some of these approaches to assessment:

UNL's Center for Transformative Teaching is committed to continuous improvement and would appreciate your feedback about this resource.