Published: April 28, 2021 By

I am writing this on a snowy-rainy day, but summer is on the horizon. While you ponder your fall classes with your feet soaking in a mountain stream this summer, it might also be a good time to consider your course assessment strategies. What is worth keeping and what will you toss out? What new strategies might you be willing to try? Here are some options to explore:

  • Design your assessments when you design your assignments. Make sure that the assignment aligns with your learning goals and your assessment strategy focuses on what you most want students to learn. 
  • Grading rubrics promote positive communication about expectations for performance and share rubrics with students when you give the assignment. Better yet, co-creating rubrics with students is an inclusive teaching practice because you create transparency for grading, encourage full participation in the creation of the rubrics, and allow students to express their own perspectives.
  • Give frequent feedback using low-stakes quizzes and writing assignments. Keep grades up-to-date in Canvas gradebook. Students feel more confident and motivated to learn when they can monitor their progress.
  • Break down big assignments into manageable chunks. For a 12-page final paper with a class of second-year students, I asked them to submit a one-page structured plan for their paper that we could discuss in a one-on-one conference. There was also a deadline for a 60 percent draft with time for instructor and peer feedback before they carried on with the final draft. Students felt supported by receiving feedback at key points, and I was able to identify students who were struggling before it was too late.
  • Give students a choice in how they will be assessed. Provide a few options that allow students to meet the learning goals in a way that best suits their learning style. This semester, several CU Boulder faculty used contract grading to promote experimentation and creative risk-taking in their writing. 
  • Try un-grading as a way to encourage student critical self-reflection and engagement with their own learning. This might be especially effective for upper-division courses as students develop in their major course of study.
  • Open book exams typically require students to do more higher order thinking by applying concepts learned in class to particular issues or situations. Open book exams usually take more time for students to complete, and promote a deeper engagement with the course material. 
  • Move away from online proctored exams or try some alternative arrangements. Can you break an exam into smaller quizzes or tests? What about a large question bank that generates a different but equivalent exam for every student? A few open-ended questions can complement a multiple-choice exam and give students an opportunity to use their own words.

Over the past year and a half, students have experienced a lot of innovation and experimentation in learning spaces. As you update your assessment strategies this year, think about trying something new. Ask your colleagues not just what did and did not work, but why they think so. Assessment does not have to be the drudgery that starts when students submit their assignments; rather, it can be a part of what motivates students to be curious, take risks, and expand their thinking. And it does not have to take all summer to sort out!