Design Summative Assessments for a Self-Paced Virtual Classroom

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Develop authentic and engaging summative assessments for self-paced virtual-teaching sessions.

There are many ways to have students demonstrate their learning, and your task as the course designer is to create the most effective, efficient, engaging, and authentic assessment opportunity possible for your students.

Tests and quizzes are efficient and convenient (and should be considered), but they are not always the most engaging and authentic way for students to show what they know. Allowing students to perform or create is perhaps the most powerful way to have them demonstrate their learning. Student creation and performance opportunities are more flexible and motivating, and they facilitate the development of key life skills, such as creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. This is true in a face-to-face classroom, and it is also true online.

Student creation is naturally differentiated when it allows for voice and choice. If students are verbal learners, they can record their voice or write down their ideas. If students are visual-spatial learners, they can create a poster, diagram, or drawing. In other words, students can choose a format that matches their preferred mode of communication. This removes barriers in the communication process and allows the students to find the best way to communicate what has been learned.

As you design your online lessons, consider which option is the best way for your students to demonstrate their learning and, if possible, give them voice and choice in that decision. Review the list below for some common and effective strategies.

Online testing is an option available to you, and efficient testing tools are typically built into a learning management system (LMS). However, because testing cannot be monitored, you should assume that your students will have access to their notes and resources as they answer questions. In the case of essay or open-ended questions, this is likely not a problem, and you might even want to encourage the use of notes for these types of tests. Essay tests can be effective in a self-paced course since they require synthesis of knowledge.

On the other hand, if you are testing recall or knowledge-level content, an online test will not be a reliable way to see what your students know. If students can “Google” the answers, you may need to rethink the questions you are asking or consider designing a different way for your students to demonstrate their learning.

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Having students perform will almost always stretch them beyond recall, and it will require them to be more fully invested in showing what they know. The activity and format will vary depending upon the content you teach, but here are some common examples of student performance to consider:

  • Present a speech.
  • Perform a skit.
  • Record a role-play.
  • Play a musical instrument.
  • Demonstrate a physical activity.
  • Create a piece of art.
  • Set up and conduct an experiment.

Performances offer the added benefit of getting students moving, and it breaks up what can become a passive routine of looking at a computer screen. In a self-paced, online environment, the performances will eventually need to be recorded and submitted digitally, usually in video or audio formats.

However, if you are able to meet with your students in a live online space, you might choose to have them perform in real time. You can learn more about this approach on the Live Virtual Teaching page.

Writing is a complex task that requires students to evaluate and synthesize what they have learned in order to put new learning into their own words. This will require them to think at the highest levels to produce quality work. Writing can also give you insight into what your students are thinking, and you get to hear it from them in their own words.

It is important to remember, however, that writing can also be a barrier for some students. Unless you are evaluating the writing itself, students who struggle with writing should be given alternate formats to communicate what they know. You don’t want the format to get in the way of communicating the learning.

If you want to allow your students to write in a creative, multimedia space, you can offer online book creation platforms as options. While students are still primarily writing, they can enhance the writing with images, and even audio and video, to create online books with multimedia. One advantage of this type of writing is that it can be shared with a broad, authentic audience. It also gives your students additional opportunities to be creative.

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While writing can be created on a simple word processing program, websites like Book Creator (pictured below) can provide added creative eBook options, like images, audio, and video:

Screenshot of Book Creator

Technology can literally give students a voice with audio recording software. In this format, students can tell you what they know and what they think in their own words with their own voices. For many students, this can be the most natural way of communicating, and it allows teachers to hear the nuances of student voices as they speak. Students can create podcasts, radio shows, songs, audio books, or simple recordings of themselves explaining their thinking.

There are many software programs that allow students to record audio. Some programs are simple one-take recording tools. Others offer editing tools to fix mistakes or add in additional layers of audio, like music. If students are musicians, these platforms provide a more extensive suite of mixing and editing options for creating sophisticated music recordings or multi-layered podcasts.

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Tools like Soundtrap offer multiple tracks and extensive editing features:

Soundtrap screen shot

Other tools, like Online Voice Recorder, keep the recording process very simple with a streamlined start, stop, and download process:

Online Voice Recorder screenshot

Students live in the video generation, and for many, this is a preferred method of communication. Video is increasingly accessible and easy to use, and most students have access to video recording options right on their phones. Video is also a great way to have students explain their learning, demonstrate a skill, tell a story, or present learning through a multimedia message.

If students are comfortable showing their face on a recording, video recording can be a powerful option. It allows you to see and hear your students as they communicate with you. Seeing facial expressions and hearing the tone of voice can help eliminate many misunderstandings and allow students to speak naturally.

For students who are uncomfortable recording themselves on video, audio might be enough. Another option for students who don’t want to show their faces is to use screen recording software. These programs allow students to record their voices as they show their computer screen. This can be a powerful way for them to explain interactive software or websites, present a speech with a digital slideshow, or explain something on a digital drawing board. Most screen recording programs allow users to record any combination of voice, screen, and camera.

If students are motivated and interested in video production, they can take advantage of full video editing suites. These options will allow them to create complex productions, using multiple camera shots, layered audio, and advanced effects. While this is not always needed, it can provide an excellent enrichment option for students who want to grow and explore in this area.

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WeVideo features online video editing, which works well on Chromebooks:

WeVideo screenshot

You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? In many respects, this is true, and images can be another great way for your students to share their understanding of content. Students can take a picture of work they have done offline. This could be a photo of a piece of paper, where they worked on a math problem or where they drew a picture. They could also take a photo of something they created, like a model or experiment.

However, the power of images can go beyond a simple snapshot. By taking advantage of image editing tools, students can edit and annotate their images. Screenshot tools like Nimbus Screenshot and Screen Video Recorder or Awesome Screenshot: Screen Video Recorder let students capture work they have completed on their screens and then mark it up. As evidence of learning, they can capture a completion score from a self-scoring website activity or a screenshot of a bit of computer code they have written. Programs like Seesaw make it easy to add voice recordings to an image or drawing, and others, like ThingLink, allow users to add interactive hotspots that link out to text, images, websites, or videos.

The potential use of images is extensive, and pictures can be “app smashed” with other programs, like Google Slides or PowerPoint. By inserting images into programs like these, students can add text, audio, video, annotations, and more, using the features native to those tools.

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Image editing programs, like Pixlr, can be sophisticated:

Pixlr Image Editing Software

Powerful image tools included in Seesaw can be used by even the youngest students:

Seesaw image editing

Multimedia essentially means that students are combining several media formats into one project. Some platforms, like websites, infographics, and slideshows, naturally lend themselves to using a mix of media. You will also find that there is overlap here because multimedia, by definition, includes some of the other types of products listed on this page.

The sheer volume of multimedia options is part of what makes this such an exciting choice, but there is a danger of offering too much choice. When considering assigning a multimedia project, offer choices, but not so many that it causes students to be overwhelmed before they even begin. One idea is to offer three choices and then allow students to suggest one of their own if they have other ideas. This gives parameters, while still encouraging individual choice.

Since multimedia is such a large area, there are far too many options to list here. Therefore, this list will include a few top choices by category to get you started.

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Google Tour Builder and other multimedia tools can unleash student creativity:

Google Tour Builder Screenshot

Students can be asked to create models or complete simulations to demonstrate their mastery of a concept. These can be created either online or offline depending on your need. If projects are created offline, you’ll need to provide a means for your students to upload an image or recording of their creation (much like you would do with a performance). If the work is done online, students will likely be able to submit a link or screenshot of their work for your review.

Models and simulations require students to apply what they have learned at the highest levels, and the process typically requires a high degree of problem-solving and analysis—both critical skills for students to develop. Models can be created with physical materials or designed digitally. In the case of simulations, you might have students create their own simulation or complete one that is already available online.

As with the “Multimedia” category, the list below includes some examples and suggested places to start exploring.

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