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Rethinking Assessments

In times of significant disruption, the key goal is to help students get the support they need to meet your most essential learning outcomes. Rather than viewing these a problematic, they are challenging but gives an opportunity to think creatively about assessing student knowledge and understanding. For example, you could have students complete a short online quiz after viewing a virtual lecture.

Whatever you choose to do, the learners’ experiences need to forefront in your thinking. Some students may have limited internet access or data plans. Keeping that in mind may help you think of alternatives that are not heavily dependent on the internet. In other words, think about “low tech” solution. For example, leverage for discussions, presentations and/or debates. Then attach an assignment to those or use them for participation marks.

The following are frequently used assessments that include low and high-tech options. This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point for creative thinking. For additional information related to alternative assessment, view our page here.

Alternative Assessment Options



Use Google Meet or Kaltura virtual classroom for online discussions (both are useful for virtual office hours)

Written Assignments

These are a typical assessment form but you can make them more dynamic and build critical thinking skills by adding peer feedback.

  • Consider establishing small peer review “teams” of 2 to 3 students who share drafts of their assignments with each other and provide feedback based on a pre-defined rubric.
  • Students can also be asked to answer specific, descriptive questions that reflect critical thinking (e.g. what was the biggest unanswered question in the draft? Or what else did you want to know/learn? This sharing can be done through Google Doc or Microsoft Word.
  • While research papers are always an option, think about how much time students would have to complete them in a comprehensive way. Rather than writing a full paper, consider doing a brief annotated bibliography.


While face-to-face labs have been cancelled, consider virtual labs. For example, livestream a lab session and then have students write up a report on the experience. Another option is to think about the goal of the lab, then come up with alternative ways to doing it. For example, if the purpose of a lab is to describe the steps in a proceed, have them watch the virtual presentation and develop their report based on that. Or, if you have a statistics lab whose outcome is data analysis, give the students a data set rather than collect the data directly.


If the original plan was for in-class presentations consider using low tech (e.g. cell phone) and have students submit a video via Blackboard or post it to a private channel on YouTube. You can also share these for peer evaluation. Students can also submit their script of the video for assessment.

Group Projects and Design Projects

Group or design projects can be managed through several of the suggestions noted above. Consider, having students work through simulations or videos and design a class-based activity or other form of assessment that would incorporate identified concepts. For example, have students choose a key physics or biology concept, then develop an approach to teaching it. Design projects can also use low tech by having create prototypes from everyday household items. They could then film their “process” and share it via Blackboard or YouTube.

This document has been adapted from created by the Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown University.