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Designing Assessments

“Well designed assessment sets clear expectations, establishes a reasonable workload (one that does not push students into rote reproductive approaches to study), and provides opportunities to self-monitor, rehearse, practice and receive feedback… What needs to be avoided are approaches to assessment that merely reward superficial, shallow or reproductive approaches to learning or which fail to direct students into the type of study that leads to the attainment of the higher-order objectives of university education."

James, R. & McInnis, C. (2001). Strategically Re-Positioning Student Assessment. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne.

The word scaffolding might remind you of construction, referring to the supports that assist workers to reach higher in order to build a complete structure. In education, it refers to various instructional techniques that help you move your students forward to stronger understanding of what they are learning, and to a greater independence in their own learning processes and development. Much like a construction scaffold supports a construction worker while they build, educational scaffolds, or supports, can be added, modified, and removed according to the needs of the group that an educator is working with (Sawyer). Scaffolding supports students in the mastery of various tasks working towards learning goals and outcomes, and can make the student more independent in the learning process.

PDF fileBest Practices: Instructional Scaffolding

The traditional form of assessment in the post-secondary course is a mid-term or final or exam. This type of assessment often fails to assess deeper forms of learning. Carefully designed assessments, on the other hand, not only evaluate what students have learned, but can motivate students in their approach to learning, helping them develop thinking and problem-solving skills, and allowing them to assess their own understanding of the course content (Mazur).

This is where alternative assessment or authentic assessment, comes in. Authentic or alternative assessments, meaning an alternative to standard tests and exams, provide a true evaluation of what the student has learned, going beyond acquired knowledge to focus on what the student has actually learned by looking at their application of this knowledge (Indiana University). Alternative forms of assessment can allow you to see what student can and cannot do, versus what they do and do not know.

PDF fileBest Practices: Alternative Assessments

Peer assessment, also called peer review, is an instructional approach that allows learners to consider, evaluate, and provide feedback on the level, value, or quality of the intellectual product of an “equal status” learner - a peer (Topping). Although the practice is typically associated with language and composition courses, it can be used successfully in a wide breadth of courses, including STEM, law, health, and business management (UBC). Students given an opportunity to participate in this process benefit not only from reviewing or assessing the work of their peers, but also from receiving reviews from others (JISC).

PDF fileBest Practices: Peer Assessment

In the broadest sense, an open book exam allows students to consult some form of reference material in the course of completing the exam. Open book exams and closed book exams have different pedagogical ends. While a closed book exam “places a premium on accurate and extensive recall, and unless carefully designed, its assessment of students’ knowledge is likely to be dominated by that ability” (Gupta, 2007), an open book exams places the focus on higher level learning. Because open book exams don’t have the same emphasis on memorization, questions can move up Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, and ask students to analyze, evaluate, or synthesize knowledge, rather than just remember it.

In her essay for Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer puts it simply: “exam situations are pretty artificial. How often in your professional life do you have a limited time window and no access to resources or expertise?” She goes on to say: “In this age of technology, we need to be purposely teaching students how to access, organize, and apply information,” not to simply memorize it.

PDF fileBest Practices: Open Book Exams

"As faculty members and instructors, you are in a strong position to role model qualities and behaviours inherent to academic integrity. Your actions provide a clear message to students, about our standards and expectations. Faculty members are in a unique position to influence students from the first class."

Visit the Academic Integrity Office (AIO) to learn more.

If you administer exams in classrooms with tiered seating, you may find these tips to be helpful. 

PDF fileBest Practices: Tiered Seating and Academic Integrity

Resources Contact 

Michelle Schwartz
Educational Developer
Ext. 552094
michelle.schwartz@ryerson.ca