Online Assessment Tips

Staff from Instructional Support Units across different UBC faculties compiled the common lessons they learned from supporting online exams during the 2020 period of fully remote teaching. This resource summarizes approaches that can help make any online assessment run more smoothly.

10 Best Practices for UBC Online Assessments

1) Consider using exams that can be taken openly

While they may take longer to build, open exams can save time and trouble for you and your students. Open exams are easier to support technically, as they do not require you, your teaching assistants (TAs), or your students to learn and troubleshoot “lockdown” technologies like LockDown Browser. Open exams can also discourage cheating, since they focus on more challenging and open-ended questions and/or use multiple versions of similar questions, which are selected at random.

To minimize student collaboration on open exams, we suggest setting up your exams to a) present one, randomly-selected question per page and b) not allow students to go back to change answers.

2) Keep exams as simple as possible

Get creative with how you run exams online, but be aware that adding security and lockdown measures to ensure academic integrity comes with a cost. Every increase in security or lockdown can also increase technical issues and stress, both for your teaching team and for your students.

Instead of trying to control for every possible cheating scenario, you may find more benefit in fine-tuning how your questions encourage students to demonstrate their learning.

3) Give practice tests prior to exams, in the same technology

A practice exam—in the technology that will be used for the actual exam—gives you and your students a trial run for identifying and resolving technical issues. It also builds confidence for everyone with using the technology, before being in a high-stakes situation, and decreases real-time support needs during the exam.

We recommend practicing with both open-book and closed-book exams (if both will be used in the course) when testing lockdown technologies. We also suggest letting students practice at the start of term and closer to exam time, since the technology can change rapidly in the intervening weeks or months.

4) Test-drive exams as a mock student

Test-drives by you and your teaching team should be done with a mock student account, so you can replicate exactly what the experience will be like for students. It’s important to note that ‘Student View’ features in technologies don’t always provide the same type of experience as an actual student account. You can contact us in the LT Hub for help setting up student accounts.

Based on how long it takes you or your TAs to complete the test-drives, you can also adjust time limits for exams, if needed.

5) Communicate exam information with students early

The earlier students know what to anticipate, the sooner they can plan for it and adjust their expectations.

The information you provide about the exam should be detailed and include what is and is not allowed during the exam—for example, whether or not students will be able to go back and change previous answers or how needs like washroom breaks will be handled.

6) Create a communication point outside the exam technology

Set up a way to communicate with students outside of the technology you’re using for the exam, to ensure students can access messages from the teaching team during the exam—especially if they’ll be locked down otherwise. This approach is helpful for addressing pedagogical or technical issues on-the-fly.

We suggest building a Canvas page for exam bulletins, linking to it from inside the exam, and allowing and encouraging students to have it open in a separate browser window or tab during the exam. For guidance on how to do this, feel free to contact us in the LT Hub.

7) Map out a clear support structure to escalate problems

Everyone—you and your students, TAs, and support staff—should know who is next in the request chain, so any problems can be resolved effectively and efficiently.

Discuss ahead of time how things could go wrong, and where or who you will go to (or send students to) for help. It is important to also provide information to the students on where to get urgent help if technical issues do occur.

8) Add buffer time at the start and end of exams

Extra time before and after the exam gives wiggle room for students who run into technical difficulties or submission issues, making the exam a more equitable experience for everyone. How much extra time to add depends on how long the exam itself is intended to be—generally, we find between 5-15 minutes of additional time seems fair.

Keep in mind that additional time beyond this buffer will still be needed for students with official exam accommodation requests.

9) Stagger exam start times, especially in large courses

Staggering the exam start, even by a few minutes, decreases the load on the technology systems that is caused by everyone trying to do the same thing (e.g., load a page or submit an answer) at the same time. This approach is particularly helpful in large, multi-section courses.

Staggering also reduces the likelihood of delays or errors and makes it easier for support staff to be available to help, if any errors do occur.

10) Help students review exams afterwards

Balancing students reviewing and therefore learning from exams with controlling against sharing answers is admittedly complex (particularly if you want to use the same exam again), and there is no perfect solution. However, we recommend two main approaches:

  • Make a copy of the exam that works as the answer key. You can do this by providing only the correct answer for each question. Then give students limited time to “take” this answer key exam.
  • Have students meet directly with you or one of your TAs in a private web-conferencing session to discuss exam outcomes.