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Testing, Proctoring, and Alternative Assessments

Information on proctoring and considerations for online course assessment

Assessing learning in online environments poses new challenges for instructors and students. There is no magical solution to these challenges, technical or otherwise. However, well-designed exams, varied assessment approaches, clear communication about the importance of academic integrity, and a sense of community responsibility among students are all critical elements. Virginia Tech provides a suite of recommended tools and promotes best practices for testing, proctoring, and alternative assessments, as described in the sections below. Every discipline has unique needs for assessment, and every approach to assessment has its strengths and weaknesses.

In online or hybrid courses, instructors may want to consider options beyond administering online exams, including project- and problem-based approaches, presentations, portfolios, writing assignments, and other options for both formative and summative assessments that require a student’s unique response. The best approach may very well be a combination of strategies, tools, and options.

Recommended Best Practices for Effective Assessment  

As you consider your approach to testing and assessment, the following suggestions can help you foster a culture of learning that supports academic integrity and emphasizes key learning outcomes in courses.

  • Encourage students to complete the Office of Undergraduate Academic Integrity’s online module.
  • As assessment measures the extent to which learning objectives have been achieved, consider these objectives and the essential elements of your course to determine when tests and quizzes are necessary, and when alternative approaches to assessment may be more effective. Remember that assessment strategies must be determined within the context of the specific circumstances of each individual course.
  • Become familiar with Virginia Tech’s supported assessment tools (listed below), including those for non-testing assessment options.
  • Take full advantage of training and support offered in the design of your testing and alternative formative and summative assessment options.
  • Consider using peer review and feedback as a strategy for formative assessments to support student success.
  • When using timed testing to assess learning, use large question pools and question randomization to reduce the likelihood of cheating.
  • Create well-designed rubrics to support the grading of project- and problem-based assessments.
  • Build flexibility into alternative assessment options to accommodate variations in student needs and to acknowledge the unique challenges students may be facing this semester.
  • Students with accommodations for proctored testing can be served by Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). The Werth Testing Center in Lavery Hall can accommodate up to 24 students at a time with distancing required in response to COVID-19. If additional on-site proctoring for students with accommodations is required, alternate sites and methods can be explored. SSD will provide support staff for proctoring groups of accommodated students in other locations for faculty, determined on a case-by-case basis. Additional information about this topic can be found on the Accessibility and Accommodations page.

Licensed Tools and Support Resources

The following tools can help you develop your approach to assessment, whether you are teaching in a classroom or online. For more information, including support materials and training options, follow the links provided for each tool. You can find several self-paced training options for assessment and evaluation tools on TLOS’s On-Demand Training website. If you have questions about any of these tools, submit a 4Help incident referencing the specific tool and providing as much information as possible. For a full list of assessment-related training workshops, visit TLOS’s Professional Development Network catalog.

Respondus LockDown Browser: This tool locks down a student’s web browser in which the test is opened so that no other tabs can be opened in that browser.

Respondus Monitor: This tool works in conjunction with LockDown Brower to record students via webcam while they take exams. Recordings are flagged by the software when there is suspicious activity. Respondus Monitor does not provide a “live” view of the student taking the exam; instructors or TAs must view the flagged sections in the recording to determine if cheating has occurred.

Respondus 4.0 (Windows only): This software streamlines the creation of exams and  question banks offline using a Windows interface, which can then be published directly to Canvas. Respondus 4.0 is especially useful for converting exams in MS Word format to Canvas exams.

Canvas Rubric Builder: Add a rubric to an assignment to help students understand expectations for the assignment and how you intend to score their submissions. In addition to assignments, rubrics can also be added to graded discussions and quizzes.

Canvas Quizzes: The Quizzes tool contains options that help enhance quiz security, allow quizzes to be imported from other programs that use the QTI file format, and accommodate various needs of students through the quiz moderation tool. Question banks can also be developed that can be transferred across multiple Canvas sites.

Canvas SpeedGrader: SpeedGrader makes it easy to evaluate individual student assignments and group assignments quickly. SpeedGrader displays assignment submissions for active students in your course.

Canvas MasteryPaths: MasteryPaths allow you to customize learning experiences for students based on their performance. You can enable MasteryPaths to automatically assign coursework based on the score achieved for a previous assignment. This provides multiple opportunities to show and achieve mastery in a course.

Canvas Peer Feedback: You can manually assign peer reviews or choose to have Canvas automatically assign peer reviews for you. You can also choose to allow students to see other students’ names in peer reviews or make them anonymous.

Portfolium: Portfolium is a portfolio-building tool that integrates into Canvas. It offers free-for-life accounts for students and a full set of assessment tools for instructors to adopt portfolio-based assignments in their courses.

Turnitin: Turnitin Plagiarism Framework in Canvas is a plagiarism detection system used in education to promote academic integrity and emphasize the importance of accurately citing sources.

iThenticate: Graduate students can use iThenticate to review their written materials (e.g., papers, article drafts, responses to qualifying or prelim exam prompts, drafts of thesis/dissertation). Faculty can use the software to review their written documents (e.g., articles, grant proposals).

EquatIO: This tool simplifies the creation of digital mathematical and chemical expressions and equations. EquatIO includes a text editor and recognizes handwriting, screenshots, LaTeX, and speech input.

Additional Resources

Testing, Proctoring, and Assessment FAQs for Fall 2020

Some effective approaches should not dramatically increase the time or effort required of the instructor. These include the use of student peer review for formative assessment, the use of available tools for creating testing banks and quizzes in Canvas, and developing effective assessment rubrics to minimize time spent on feedback and grading.

The current catalog of training and workshops related to assessment is available through the TLOS Professional Development Network.

Individual consultations are also available. CETL can provide assistance with developing and designing assessments. TLOS can provide assistance with tools and techniques for effectively administering assessments.

Communicating and collaborating at a distance can be facilitated using tools such as Zoom for real-time conversations. Collaborating and guiding GTAs can also be supported through shared Google resources (e.g., documents, drives), or using unpublished pages in a Canvas course site, which are visible only to instructors in the course. When determining the tools and processes to be used to communicate and collaborate with your GTA, remember to be clear and establish consistent practices for sharing information, storing resources, and maintaining contact with one another. The best support you can provide is to be available, responsive, and patient when needed.

Academic dishonesty affects all students. You can help to promote that understanding in your course early by working to establish a sense of class community, particularly when all or part of the course is being conducted online. Key elements of successful online learning communities include honesty, responsiveness, respect, openness, and empowerment. You can establish these as the guides for your class community with a simple statement in your syllabus such as, “All students participating in this course are asked to be open to all perspectives and empowered to be honest in their timely responses to all questions, conversations, and discussions in a manner that is respectful and remains relevant to the topic or topics under discussion. In addition, students are expected to read and abide by the Virginia Tech Principles of Community.”

You can also create an “expectations” statement specifically outlining the expectations of your class community with regard to academic integrity, as well as the conduct of your course pertaining to aspects including participation, communication, and response time.

*Reference: Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.

When the class size permits, you may want to use essay questions, problem-solving exercises, portfolios, and other assessment methods that require students to apply and synthesize concepts covered in your course. These types of assignments typically take longer to grade, but they also are less prone to cheating. Another useful practice is to use a variety of assessment practices in different combinations; over the course of the semester, this approach will benefit students who have consistently worked to learn the course content.

Large classes pose additional challenges for assessment due to the increased time required for grading essays, problem-solving exercise, or other learning activities, and due to the difficulty of monitoring many students during an exam. In addition to employing the strategies discussed throughout this page, it may be useful to use more frequent, shorter, and lower-stakes quizzes, in lieu of a few large, long exams.

There is no technology that can eliminate all possibility of students receiving assistance during online testing, but steps can be taken to discourage such practices. The use of Respondus Monitor can identify a student through a webcam, but it does require comparison to an image of the student that must be checked by the instructor. Zoom video conferencing can be used during assessments to view the person at the computer taking the exam; however, it does not eliminate the possibility of students checking notes or receiving help from others either out of camera range or online.

Before using any technology that requires students to be on camera, carefully consider your reasons for doing so, and communicate that expectation clearly and well in advance of the assessment. Be sensitive to students who have concerns about privacy and recognize that students returning to VT are not required to have a webcam unless it is listed as required technology by the course, program, department, or college. (Webcams are listed as a required technology for incoming freshmen starting in Fall 2020.)

There is no method to entirely eliminate the possibility of students receiving assistance during online testing, or referring to materials outside of view of the webcam. A mixture of strategies can make such behavior more cumbersome and challenging than preparing for the assessment. Using tools like Respondus Monitor and LockDown Browser, large question pools, random question selection, randomization of multiple choice options, and short time limits per question can do much to discourage cheating.

For services using a webcam, microphone, and a live proctor who monitors activity remotely in real-time, faculty can discuss with their departments and colleges options for those services through providers such as Smarter Services, Examity, and ProctorU, for which either a VT license or statewide license is currently active. Some instructors have used Zoom video conferencing during a testing period to be able to view the person at the computer taking the exam; this can be helpful as the instructor is available for questions during the test and the student is visible (if the webcam is activated), but it also has its own challenges and does not eliminate the possibility of students checking notes or receiving help from others, either in person or online. Students returning to VT are not required to have a webcam unless it is listed as required technology by the course, program, department, or college. (Webcams are listed as a required technology for incoming freshmen starting in Fall 2020.)

With regard to individual on-site proctors for students at a distance, TLOS hosts proctor nomination and acceptance forms, which students can use to nominate a proctor who is then approved by the instructor. If you are using Respondus Monitor, you can provide students with a password that will allow them to take the exam without a webcam enabled.

If you are using Respondus Monitor, you can provide students with a password that will allow them to take the exam without a webcam enabled. Another option is to require the student to nominate an on-site live proctor for their test. TLOS hosts proctor nomination and acceptance forms, which students can use to nominate a proctor who is then approved by the instructor. This will require time and effort from the student, the instructor, and TLOS, and should only be considered for high-stakes exams, not quizzes designed for formative assessment.

Yes. Faculty members and departments have the responsibility to assist students with disabilities by designing for accessibility and implementing accommodations to ensure that students have the same opportunity as their peers. Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) has developed resources for faculty, staff, and university departments to help them aid students with disabilities. This website also provides additional guidelines about accessibility and accommodations for Fall 2020.

For all information on assessment for students with accommodations, please contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at 540-231-3788 or ssd@vt.edu. This website also provides additional guidelines about accessibility and accommodations for Fall 2020.

Assessments can be formative (informing student progress) or summative (evaluating the extent to which learning outcomes have been reached). Alternatives to quizzes and tests for assessment include project- or problem-based assessments in which students assimilate what has been learned and apply it to the creation of a new product or a response to a problem. Using a portfolio for assessment allows for multiple artifacts to be contributed toward a broader summative assessment. Project- or problem-based assessments either individually or as a portfolio are best implemented through the use of well-constructed assignment instructions and grading rubrics. Additional guidelines and resources are available from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Alternative assessments are best graded through the use of a well-constructed grading rubric that considers all elements of the assessment, as well as the essential characteristics of the highest level of performance or achievement of the learning outcomes being assessed, with logically scaffolded levels leading up to that highest level. The rubric should be clear and concise, so that subjectivity is reduced to a minimum, and accompanied by feedback to students in a comments section.

For assistance with designing rubrics, request a consultation with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. For assistance with creating rubrics in Canvas, submit a 4Help incident and reference this specific topic.

Several VT groups will provide resources for instructors investigating the use of project- or problem-based alternatives to testing for assessment; the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies, and University Libraries work collaboratively to support faculty. To access these resources and support, please submit a 4Help incident and reference this specific topic.

Large classes present unique challenges for assessments. Group work can reduce the number of assignments to be graded, but group work also presents its own challenges. Peer review for formative assessment can reduce the time and effort invested by instructors for managing non-testing alternative assessments. Both group work and peer review assignments can be learning activities as well as assessment processes, but they do require careful design. For assistance with designing alternative assessments in large classes, request a consultation with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. For assistance with the technology applications used for assessment, submit a 4Help incident and reference this specific topic

VT has licensed EquatIO as a solution for including equations in online testing. For more information, refer to the list of Licensed Tools and Support Resources on this page.

VT has licensed Portfolium for managing student portfolios. For more information, refer to the list of Licensed Tools and Support Resources on this page.