Eleven alternative assessments for a mixed synchronous learning environment

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Our mid-sized state university decided to institute a mixed synchronous delivery model this year. A lively online workshop was offered over the summer to help teachers design classes for the new learning environment, to which nearly 600 teachers have signed up. One area we explored included alternative assessments. We, as educators, are aware of the benefits of alternative assessments; they are less stressful to learners, can be low-tech, are often scaffolded to provide formative assessment, and can increase academic honesty, student motivation, and learning. The following are ideas from professors who have been tasked with creating alternative assessments to implement in a mixed synchronous learning environment.

1. Bucket of fun

In this assessment, athletic training skills are written on a piece of paper and put into a cup. A skill is drawn for each student and immediately the student demonstrates / performs the skill in front of the class. If they are confused, they can ask questions. Distant students can describe their actions if they cannot perform the skill. An alternative could be scenario-based questions that require students to explain how they would handle the scenario (what questions they would ask, what tests they would take, etc.). This assessment can be used across disciplines, for example, math teachers might provide equations, chemistry teachers might provide problems, ideas, and terms, and history teachers might provide dates or events. depending on the unit’s material and ask students to explain what happened on those dates. .

-Glenn Edgerton, Athletic Training Program

2. Three minute message (3MM)

As a closing technique for the class, students create a 3MM to synthesize the material and explain it to their partner. 3MM are posted online and students vote for the most effective message. The first five are presented in the next lesson and the pupils complete a reflection assignment which answers the following questions: How does the explanation help us to understand the subject in a broader societal way? How does this material relate to you and to society in a relevant way?

-Corina Kellner, Department of Anthropology

3. Replace mid-term exams with low-stakes bi-monthly quizzes

Rearranging information by week rather than topic allows for more frequent, low-stake quizzes. The overall value of the quizzes may be equal to the previously given mid-session. Quizzes provide ongoing information about student understanding and can improve memory retrieval.

-Ana Araya Anchetta, Biology

4. Zine and contemporary issues

Students create fanzines, translating reading and discussion ideas into digestible information to share with the audience. The zine is combined with contemporary issues so that the zine also directly and explicitly engages with world events.

-Nora Timmerman, Department of Sustainable Communities

5. Poster variant: Lookbook

Students learn how theatrical action and cinematic action are staged differently. The basis of the visual composition includes the identification of the guiding elements in the frame. Students find and post a series of pictures to show how the eye moves first to the most dominant element in the frame, and then to subsequent pictures.

-Paul Helford, School of Communication

6. Complete list of factors: circular map

Students compose a circular map with state standards in the middle. From memory, students add everything they can remember about the standards and work in pairs to determine what was missed, included, and what each part means. Then the state’s ELA standards are displayed on screen during class discussion. Students identify the components and why the standards are important.

-Norma Zink, College of Education

7. Scaffolded peer review

To integrate the scaffolding into larger assignments and to allow peers to compare themselves, students submit the work digitally to their partner. Peer reviewers complete a comments form that provides clear guidelines to help structure their comments. Students then edit their peer-reviewed work and submit a draft to the instructor. Feedback forms are submitted to the instructor by the peer reviewer.

-Paulina Swiatkowski, School of Communication

8. Single blind peer review

Rather than writing individual review letters, students team up and write collaborative single-blind peer reviews. The result is a collaborative conversation about craftsmanship, aesthetics, and narrative logic. Authors are matched in peer review groups and collaborate through Google Docs. A checklist provides examples of helpful comments. After peer reviewers have contributed to the documents, each student is responsible for editing and polishing one of the documents.

The review is submitted and rated, and is anonymously available to the author.

-Lawrence Lenhart, English Department

9. Problem solving videos

Given a set of scientific principles and mathematical and computational tools, how do students go about answering a question, creating a design, and solving a problem? Students check in and watch themselves teach a lesson and rate their own performance using a detailed rubric (provided in advance). Students set goals for themselves, based on the rubric scores, to improve their own teaching skills. Being able to articulate and verbally explain the solution to a problem is an effective learning exercise, as well as an effective evaluation technique.

-Tom Acker, Department of Mechanical Engineering

10. System level drawings

Throughout the semester, students sketch designs for multiple systems and include factors important to controlling system behavior. A tutorial, topic, and examples are provided to describe the drawings and their use. Through the video comments, particularly interesting examples are shared with an explanation of why they were chosen.

-Deborah Huntzinger, School of the Earth and Sustainability

11. Annotated timeline

Students engage in the process of planning, researching, and choosing important items to include in a timeline. Submissions can be a Word document, slide, short video, or hand-drawn image.

Students include at least 10 annotated items and other unannotated items. The content can include a mix of key individuals, political events, conflicts, ideas, movements, etc., or they can focus on a theme or category. Students should answer the who, what, where, why, and how questions in their element annotation, as well as the “so what?” »Question which justifies its presence on their chronology. Students write one paragraph per item.

-Diana Coleman, Department of Comparative Cultural Studies


Dr. Samantha Clifford is an Instructional Designer for Innovative Online Pedagogies at Northern Arizona University and a part-time Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Clifford has worked in the areas of faculty professional development, student academic success, and international education. She has over 20 years of experience working with marginalized populations, particularly with homeless and runaway youth in the United States, England and Australia.


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