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Online and Blended Learning (OBL) Assessment Toolkit

Please note that this guidance was developed for the 2020/21 academic year.  You may continue to find this advice helpful to incorporate into your assessment planning and delivery in conjunction with Faculty guidance.  

 

This toolkit outlines the University's key assessment principles and recommended inclusive assessment types for 2020/21.  This guidance has been developed to help colleagues to make decisions about assessments in an online and blended environment; we will be continuing to update this guide as we move forward and are making this version of the toolkit available in the first instance to support the ongoing work.  We would welcome feedback, suggestions and examples of use of the listed assessment types that could be shared to support colleagues in the design and development of these.   

Guidance is provided below on: 

Introduction

Taught programmes will need to implement revised assessment processes for 2020-21 to ensure that assessment can be carried out effectively regardless of the level of COVID19 restrictions in place. Should social distancing measures change in the months to come it is important that staff and students feel confident that planned assessments are unlikely to be subject to future change at short notice. 

In June 2020, the University Senate approved that assessment tasks would be delivered online and be conducted in line with existing University assessment policies and principles.  

The Assessment Principles 2020/21 document summarises the core guiding principles underpinning the design of assessment tasks. These are recommended to ensure that assessment tasks are valid, fair, reliable and inclusive by design and should attract minimal requests for further adjustment for reasons of disability. The core principles also support the more detailed discussion and documentation being produced by individual Faculties.  

This toolkit draws on the Assessment Principles and the Online Assessment Matrix 2020/21and complements the guidance and documentation produced by Faculties, elements of which have been incorporated into this Toolkit.  

Assessment Principles

These principles encompass a University-wide focus on assessment for, and not just of, learning, with emphasis on increased flexibility in assessments.

Assessments will: 

  • provide a valid and reliable approach to fairly evaluate students’ ability to meet unit/module and programme learning outcomes
  • reduce the need for disability-related adjustments
  • be accessible for all students and inclusive by design
  • provide every student with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their achievement
  • be authentic and offer students contextualised, meaningful tasks that replicate real-world challenges
  • comply with regulators where applicable
  • be communicated clearly to students at the start of the semester in terms of timing, marking arrangements and clear assessment briefs and criteria 

Assessment design should also contribute to:

  • addressing any awarding gaps that may exist in current assessment approaches
  • supporting student engagement, learning, progression, retention and address the needs of our diverse student population
  • removing excessive summative assessment whilst supporting student learning through formative assessment

Assessment Design

Programmes are designed around intended learning outcomes (ILOs) which specify the knowledge and skills which students should develop during their degree. Programmes and assessments should be structured with increasing levels of challenge and should support the development of independent critical thinking skills. Teaching and learning activities, assessments and feedback shape learning experiences and enable students to develop a wide range of transferable skills and employability attributes. Learning and assessment activities should be inclusive and appropriate for a diverse audience.

Assessment should be valid, reliable, fair, accessible and inclusive. Traditional assessments – for example essays, portfolios and timed exams – have an important role, but alternative approaches to assessment may be more appropriate to test whether students are achieving certain ILOs and help them to become more effective learners.

Designing assessments which are scalable to meet different student numbers and demonstrate consistency and ensure confidence in reproducibility are key. They should, where appropriate, meet any professional and/or regulatory body requirements to ensure they can demonstrate professional competence.

For effective assessment design programme teams should take into consideration the following guidance:

  • Refer to the intended learning outcomes of the course unit, and those of the programme, to ensure the assessment only assesses what needs to be assessed. This will reduce overassessment and encourage more focused assessment. 
  • Make greater use of asynchronous or synchronous assessments throughout the academic year, as these reduce the emphasis on single high-stakes assessments in an examination period and can be less prone to issues that could affect completion. 
  • Make use of assessment activities that, where appropriate, promote reflection and use of information in specific contexts which require explanation, reasoning and application, rather than just memory recall. 
  • Build inclusivity into the assessment, which will benefit many of our students and will also minimise the need for bespoke adaptation for disabled students.

Designing revised assessment tasks

Please note that this guidance was developed for 2020/2021.  For further guidance on design and delivery of assessments contact you Faculty teams (details listed at the bottom of this page).  

The Online Assessment Matrix 2020/21 contains a summary of approved, inclusive online assessment types, durations, recommendations for their use, alignment to software solutions, examples of use and links to further support. In all assessment design consideration should be given to ensure the assessments are accessible in formatting style and delivery. This document is a living document, and the list will, where appropriate, be updated.  However, when planning assessments for 2020/21 the current assessment methods should be considered.  Where alternative assessment methods to those listed in the matrix are required the following process should be followed:   

1. Programme teams proposing a justified case for alternative assessment types to those listed below will be required to seek advice from DASS on their proposal. DASS will consider the inclusivity/accessibility of the proposed assessment and advise if any adjustments will need to be made. Where adjustments are recommended, these should be detailed in a revised assessment proposal.

2. Following the consultation from DASS, the usual programme amendment process should be used to submit the amendment for approval via your local QA process and onward to the Faculty. Proposals should include the following:

  • Rationale for alternative approach (aligning assessment to core principle document)
  • Proposed alternative
  • Confirmation from DASS of any adjustments that may be required

3. Where approved, the alternative assessment type will be added to those listed below.

As with all assessments, the following still need to be in place and students need to be made aware of these:

  • Guidelines for assessments e.g. word / page length, submission deadlines and any associated penalties.
  • Marking criteria or criteria for success for assessment. These may be tailored to reflect the specific assessment style and expectations.  All markers should use these criteria to guide their marking and ensure consistency of marking and expectations.  Staff are also reminded that the University's policies on marking and feedback still apply. 
  • The University’s Academic Malpractice Procedure.  

Considerations

In addition to the guidance within the Assessment Type sections in this toolkit, the following considerations should also be addressed when designing all online assessments:  

Platform availability for remote learners

Appropriate software tools to support online assessments should be identified; aligned and supported software tools are listed within the Assessment Type guidance below.

In addition, each Faculty manages and supports a range of additional resources specific to their Schools and programmes. Further information on the products, services and guidance available in your area can be found on the relevant Faculty websites:

To contact your Faculty eLearning team: 

NB the Guidance on Software for Online Teaching outlines the recommended solutions and software available to teaching staff for the delivery of online teaching (including information on School and subject-specific software/applications).  This includes updates since originally published in Semester 1 2020/21.  

 

Synchronous and asynchronous assessment

In general and for practical purposes, consideration of designing assessments to be undertaken asynchronously as this allows for greater inclusivity of students working in widely different time zones and minimises the risk of engagement with online assessments being impaired by technical difficulties.  It is recognised, however, that there will be exceptions to this where synchronous assessment is required, such as in ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.  In the case of the latter, discussions should be held with Programme/School/Faculty teams as per relevant Programme/School/Faculty guidance.   

You may find this 'Coursework or Exam' flowchart (developed for 2020/21) helpful to your decision-making.

PSRB requirements

Programme teams need to engage with individual professional/regulatory bodies regarding proposed assessment approaches as a matter of urgency.

It is noted that there are still cases where there is a formal requirement for campus or online invigilated/proctored assessments during  teaching and examination weeks (e.g. for reasons of regulatory compliance). In these instances the core assessment principles for design should still be applied.

Preparing students for online assessments

Many of our students will be engaging with online assessments and using related platforms for the first time, or may have limited experience of engaging with these effectively; it is therefore key to consider how we can prepare students for this and ensure they have the information that they need in order to complete assessments successfully. This should include:

  • Providing students with opportunities for rehearsal and formative feedback with their peers and tutors prior to summative assessment tasks. This is particularly important when students are required to engage with new platforms and/or assessment methods.
  • Providing students with clear guidance about the timing of assessments in advance, including when these must be completed, how long they will take and how much time should be spent on any components, and expected word/page counts and referencing systems for answers. Clear criteria for success / assessment guidelines must be made available in advance.
  • Signposting students to key support resources that can help them to engage effectively with online assessments.  The Library’s Assessment Support pages include a range of revision and other assessment support resources, and the My Learning Essentials blog contains articles that can help students to prepare for online assessments: posts include those on open book assessments (including a student perspective on these) and video based assessments.  The Student Support website also provides guidance for students on Assessments and Exams.  Consider how you can raise awareness of these with students in order to support their effective engagement with online assessments: for example, you could highlight the Library’s resources or this Online Open Book Exam Guide for Students in your Blackboard space.

Timing, duration and scheduling

In order to support students in managing their workload and engaging with assessments effectively it is important to:

  • Ensure that any deadlines across a Programme are staggered
  • Provide clear guidance in advance about timing of assessments, including when they must be completed, how long they will take, how much time should be spent on each question, and expected word counts for answers
  • Take a programme-level approach to planning assessment and deadlines as far as possible

Marking and moderation

Moderation approaches should be reviewed to ensure they are appropriate for a changed assessment profile.  Clear criteria for success / assessment guidelines must be made available in advance.  Markers should use these criteria to guide their marking to ensure consistency of marking and expectations; staff are also reminded that the University's policies on marking and feedback still apply, and the Academic Development and Policy website provides Guidance on Moderation, Fairness and Consistency of Marking.     

Academic malpractice

To ensure confidence in assessments – the degree to which we can trust that work being assessed is the student’s own – they should be designed, where appropriate, to be authentic and assess higher levels of critical thinking and/or incorporate fixed time, limited availability tests.

If the course’s learning outcomes emphasise higher order cognitive skills (such as argument, application, comparison, critique) then consider focusing on questions that assess these kind of skills; assessment types such as an open book exam may allow for a more authentic assessment of these. You may also consider including a requirement for student reflection or discussion of material within a specific context.

With any assessment that is not completed in on-campus exam conditions there is a possibility that students may get outside help with their assessment or even collude with other students. In order to limit these issues submissions should be made through Turnitin. Staff should also consult the Contract Cheating Toolkit to find out more about steps that can be taken to tackle the practice of assignments being completed by third parties, including advice on assessment design, risk factors and messaging to students.

Assessment types

The list below is split into 2 sections – those assessments that are broadly inclusive, and those that are contingent i.e. extra time or other adjustments are required. All students with protected characteristics needed to be considered regarding inclusivity – staff should be encouraged to consider why they are assessing in the way that they currently are. Wherever possible, an inclusive method of assessment should be chosen, with contingent assessments being used only where the competence standards require it.  Timetabling of these assessments, including clear and timely communication of all assessment deadlines, will be critical to ensuring students have an appropriate amount of time to complete their work without multiple, overlapping deadlines.   

Inclusive assessment types

Open book or 'take home' exams (seen or unseen) - 48hrs+ window

Assessment method: Time-constrained assessment task allowing students access to various reference sources during the examination e.g. textbooks, law statutes, statistics etc.

Duration/timing:

  • Must be 48 hour minimum+ window
  • Students are expected to not spend more than 3 times the original time allocated to the examination
  • Guide students about how much time they should spend on each question / section
  • To minimise crossover, particularly for assessments of shorter duration, careful consideration of timetabling needs is required

Guidance on use:

  • Consider that students have access to resources to aid their answers therefore include questions that don’t just require memory recall (that can be easily answered from source material), but focus on understanding and interpretation, analysis etc according to the academic level
  • Guidance on word/page length, expected time to spend on each question and referencing requirements should all be clearly stated
  • Make the question context-rich, scenario-specific or current/topical
  • Consider specifying a small number of previously-unannounced resources which you want students to work from in their answers. This will enhance confidence in ensuring students are not obtaining answers from elsewhere.
  • Breaking large chunks of work down into smaller pieces with associated deadlines will aid students in their time management
  • Consider purpose of assessment and ensure marking criteria reflect this e.g. to assess a) work for content and understanding rather than structure or standard of written English, or b) ability to develop technically structured / written response
  • Need to ensure that all students can use and have access to the necessary computer equipment and software to undertake the assessment
  • Extra time, toilet and rest breaks will not need to be applied when using this inclusive assessment method
  • Students who have other support needs, e.g. amanuenses, may need adjustments - these will be listed in the individual student's support plan and should only be determined by DASS
  • Guidance for students on open book examinations can be found on the Student Support website and My Learning Essentials also provides guidance on this; consider how you can signpost to these in order to support your students in engaging effectively with these assessments
  • Open book assessment guidance for staff has been developed by Sally Hickson (ITL Fellow) and colleagues from the OBL Assessment Group and ITL; this includes advice on supporting students with open book exams, practical tips for delivery of assessments and guidance on open book assessment design.  

Software solutions:

  • Turnitin is the preferred tool for its inbuilt capability to assist in identification of academic malpractice. There is guidance on setting up open-book exams on Blackboard using Turnitin, including adaptive release, but please contact your School’s Teaching and Learning Office before implementing Turnitin for the first time on summative assessments.
  • Blackboard Assignment tool is more appropriate for group submission, where size of submission is larger than 100MB, or where marking/feedback requires in-line annotation/drawing
  • Blackboard Tests

Open book or 'take home' exams with follow up discussion

Assessment type details, durations and considerations as above, but with discussion of information to take place following submission to improve confidence in assessment method.  All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the timed, oral/presentation support section will apply.  Students should be referred back to DASS if they have concerns about a particular mode of assessment, so that their needs can be discussed.   

Contingent assessment types

Open book online exam - with defined time limit once the assessment has been started

Assessment method: Time-constrained assessment task allowing students access to various reference sources during the examination e.g. textbooks, law statutes, statistics etc.

Duration/timing:

  • Once the student has commenced the assessment, they have a defined period of time to complete it.
  • Assessments of 2 hours duration or less (excluding adjustments) - must be a 24 hour minimum+ window. 
  • Assessments of more than 2 hours duration (excluding adjustments) - must be 48 hour minimum+ window
  • Guide students about how much time they should spend on each question/section
  • To minimise crossover, particularly for assessments of shorter duration, careful consideration of timetabling needs is required

Guidance on use:

  • Consider that students have access to resources to aid their answers – therefore include questions that don’t just require memory recall (that can be easily answered from source material), but focus on understanding and interpretation, analysis etc, according to the academic level
  • Guidance on word/page length, expected time to spend on each question and referencing requirements should all be clearly stated
  • Students need to be made very aware that this is a fixed time period that they have to abide by within the overall window, i.e. that they must ensure to set aside that time to avoid interruptions so that they can complete the assessment within the defined time once commenced
  • Make the question context-rich, scenario-specific or current/topical
  • Consider whether to specify a small number of previously-unannounced resources which you want students to work from in their answers
  • Breaking large chunks of work down into smaller pieces with associated deadlines will aid students in their time management
  • Ensure to mark work for content and understanding rather than structure or standard of written English
  • Need to ensure that all students can use and have access to the necessary computer equipment and software to undertake the assessment
  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the timed, written exam support section will apply (rest breaks, extra time etc.)
  • Guidance for students on open book examinations can be found on the Student Support website and My Learning Essentials also provides guidance on this; consider how you can signpost to these in order to support your students in engaging effectively with these assessments
  • Open book assessment guidance for staff has been developed by Sally Hickson (ITL Fellow) and colleagues from the OBL Assessment Group and ITL; this includes advice on supporting students with open book exams, practical tips for delivery of assessments and guidance on open book assessment design.

Software solutions:

  • Turnitin is the preferred tool for its inbuilt capability to assist in identification of academic malpractice.  There is guidance on setting up open-book exams on Blackboard using Turnitin, including adaptive release, but please contact your School's Teaching and Learning Office before implementing Turnitin for the first time on summative assessments
  • Blackboard Assignment tool is more appropriate for group submission, where size of submission is larger than 100MB, or where marking/feedback requires in-line annotation/drawing.
  • Blackboard Tests.

Multi-choice questions (MCQ)

Assessment method: Form of assessment where students are asked to select the best possible option out of choices from a list.  MCQ tests can be used for diagnostic, formative self-assessment or summative purposes.

Duration/timing:  

  • Must be available across a fixed window of time, but once students commence the assessment they have a fixed time period in which to complete the assessment.  This will allow students some choice in selecting the appropriate time of day to undertake assessment without distraction and to take account of time zones:
    • 24+ hours if the assessment is no longer than 2 hours in duration (excluding adjustments)
    • 48+ hours if the assessment is more than 2 hours in duration (excluding adjustments)
  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student's DASS support plan under the "written exam support section" will apply.  (See the Online Assessment Matrix 2020/21 for more detail).  For example:
    • If a MCQ is 2 hours long in duration, DASS adjustments would be applied i.e. students with 25% extra time would have 2 1⁄2 hours to complete the examination within a 24 hour period.
    • Rest breaks and toilet breaks should each be applied as extra time at 10 minutes per hour, if rest breaks are not technically possible to add.
    • A few students will have ‘rest break exemptions’. If this is the case, the information will be listed on their support plan, along with the amount of time that should be added.
    • A student with extra time, rest breaks and toilet breaks for a 2 hour exam will therefore receive:                         2 hours + 30 minutes + 20 minutes + 20 minutes = 3 hours and 40 minutes.
  • Consider staged release of components of the examinations across a time span, e.g. half an hour for each section.  All sections to be completed within a given timeframe.   
  • ‘On call’ invigilator / eLearning support likely to be required in case of technical issues. 

Guidance on use:  

  • A variety of other computer-supported formats are widely used including ‘best match’ questions, ‘drag and drop’ questions, labelling diagrams, marking crucial points on graphs, answering questions on case study scenarios, completing text by filling in gaps in closed question formats, and many others.  
  • Using multi-choice questions that invoke reasoning, for example where there are options that present a cognitive conflict in the minds of the students, can help differentiate someone who is simply searching for an answer or someone who can use reasoning to eliminate some of the options.  
  • Write multi-choice questions so that they have a rich context, i.e. the question requires students to use several data points from say a figure, table, graph etc, or within the question that makes it specific such that students are not able to just Google the answer.  
  • All Exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the timed, written exam support section will apply (rest breaks, extra time etc.). 
  • Guidance for students on MCQs can be found on the Student Support website; consider how you can signpost to this in order to support your students in engaging effectively with these assessments. 

Software solutions:  

  • Blackboard Tests are the main supported tool for summative MCQ examinations.  Bb Help pages include useful guidance on different types of quiz questions.  
  • Where MCQ involve the use of maths-type characters, Stack (for queries, contact FSE eLearning team in first instance) or Mobius offer advantages over Blackboard.   
  • Another tool used to deliver MCQ assessments is TurningPoint.   

 

Oral assessment methods (e.g. individual oral test, interview or group/individual presentation)

See guidance below for video assessments, posters and discussions where also relevant

Assessment method: In oral exams, an examiner poses questions and the student answers in a spoken form. Presentation assessments typically involve students researching, discussing and presenting on topic for a specified length of time. Presentations often involve the production of associated slides or other materials.

Duration/timing:

  • May be live/synchronous or asynchronous

Guidance on use:

  • Individually or in groups, these assessments can be used for checking understanding or Q&A around a focussed topic.
  • Clear expectations of assessment including marking criteria to be made available in advance. Opportunities for students to engage with the process in rehearsal or formatively should be considered.
  • Individual adjustments will need to be considered but allowing some choice over the method of oral assessment (where possible) would make this mode of assessment more inclusive. For example, some students may benefit from presenting with slides and the camera switched off. Others may perform to a higher standard in an informal 1:1 discussion or by choosing a synchronous over an asynchronous presentation.
  • Having the option to use the chat function within an online platform may help students who become overwhelmed.
  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the oral/presentation support section will apply. Students should be referred to DASS if they have concerns about a particular mode of assessment, so that their needs can be discussed.
  • Need to consider potential technical difficulties for live assessment.

Software solutions:

Off campus/online presentations can be delivered

  • synchronously using standard web conferencing tools (Blackboard Collaborate, MS Teams)
  • asynchronously using VoiceThread

Examples of use:

Virtual Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs)

Duration/timing:

  • May be live or recorded

Guidance on use:

  • Individually or in groups.
  • Live or pre-recorded video.
  • Need to find alternative ways to replicate scenarios or information to be made available online
  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the OSCE support section will apply. Students should be referred to DASS if they have concerns about a particular mode of assessment, so that their needs can be discussed.  
  • Need to consider potential technical difficulties for live assessment

Software solutions:

  • Web conferencing tools such as Blackboard Collaborate or MS Teams can be used to run synchronous oral examinations

Staff developing these assessments may find these documents produced by Harish Thampy, for use in BMH May 2020 assessments, helpful:

 

Posters

Assessment method: Students are asked to produce (and often present) a poster that synthesises and presents, in a visual manner, research or understanding of a topic.

Duration/timing:

  • Synchronous (involving poster presentation) or asynchronous 

Guidance on use:

  • Posters can be used for individual or group assessments
  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the oral/presentation support section will apply. Students should be referred to DASS if they have concerns about a particular mode of assessment, so that their needs can be discussed.

Software solutions:

  • Posters can be easily produced using PowerPoint or Microsoft Publisher
  • Student submission can be done via Turnitin, or Bb Assignment if size exceeds 100MB
  • Where posters are to be public-facing, Adobe Spark (Post) is an easy tool to use for student production of posters

Video assessment

Assessment method: video assessments can take various forms – examples include production of a video artefact and multimedia presentation including text/audio/video

Duration/timing:

  • Asynchronous 

Guidance on use:

  • All exam adjustments outlined in a student’s DASS support plan under the oral/presentation support section will apply. Students should be referred to DASS if they have concerns about a particular mode of assessment, so that their needs can be discussed.

Software solutions:

Students can use a number of ways to create video -   

  • their own devices – mobile phone, tablet, computer, photo or video camera
  • video presentations using VoiceThread
  • freely available and public-facing tools such as Adobe Spark Video

Discussion boards

Assessment method: discussion boards are a forum that can facilitate information, promote interaction and debate, promote critical thinking, problem-solving, peer learning and model constructive criticism.

Duration/timing:

  • Synchronous / Asynchronous 

Recommendations for use:

  • Discussion boards require careful design and moderation to ensure active student participation

Software solutions:

  • Online discussions can be hosted on the virtual learning environment (VLE) using either the Blackboard Discussions tool or Piazza.

Further help:

Further information and support

Faculty websites:

To contact your Faculty eLearning team:

 

You may find this checklist useful when planning your assessments according to the guidance in this toolkit. It might also be useful to consult the 7 principles of assessment, an infographic created by Sally Hickson (ITL Fellow). 

You may also find it helpful to search the Blackboard Help resources and articles on the Knowledge Base for further guidance on use of software.  

  

Further reading

Contact

Queries on this toolkit can be directed to teaching.learning@manchester.ac.uk in the first instance.