Planning the overall assessment scheme

In this article:

Including a description of the means of assessment in the course outline is a University requirement. Details about this requirement are available in the Course Outline Template and Guide

When you plan the assessment tasks for your course, keep in mind appropriate and manageable workload. Considerations: 

  • The weight of each assessment task should be appropriate in relation to the importance of the learning outcome(s) being assessed and the time students will spend on learning activities.  

  • The quantity and sequencing of major assessment tasks should be reasonable for the credit weight of the course in terms of workload for your students and you.  

  • If you are planning to implement less familiar technology tools or assessment strategies, the time students—and you—might need to learn them should be taken into account.

Assessment schemes

When making decisions about how your students will demonstrate their learning, always have your course learning outcomes in mind. Depending on the relative importance of the different learning outcomes in your course, you might consider planning a variety of assessment types.

The example assessment schemes below are intended to provide inspiration as you plan assessments for your course(s). Each example assessment scheme is made up of different combinations of assessment strategies. We encourage you to mix and match these strategies to best support student learning in your course(s). Each example begins with learning outcomes and is followed by an assessment type and explanation of how this assessment allows students to demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes. Each example concludes with a description of McGill-supported technology tools for implementing the assessment.

You might also consider whether the number of assessments is reasonable in terms of workload for you and your students. This Course Workload Estimator 2.0 (Wake Forest University) might help you with gauging the amount of time students will need to complete tasks. If workload is a concern, consider reducing the number of assessments if you can do so while still being able to assess student learning. Consider making some assessments optional or non-graded.

Click here for more information about McGill-supported technology tools for teaching.

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Quizzes, short papers, timed exam

Quizzes, short papers, timed exam

Students will be able to recall basic concepts and definitions.

5 mini quizzes (3% each) or 7 quizzes and the best 5 count
Regular quizzes can sustain engagement, and promote review and comprehension of material. Frequent, low-stakes assignments have the potential to promote student well-being as they allow students to become familiar with the assessment type and minimize the stress for each quiz. Provide students with practice opportunities by allowing students multiple attempts for each quiz. In an online setting, regular quizzes can be a substitute for participation grades. Counting the best 5 of 7 quizzes can minimize students’ stress in the event they have to miss a quiz. It can also reduce time instructors spend dealing with make-up assessments due to student absences.

Tools: Use the Quizzes tool in myCourses to set up quizzes that auto-grade students’ submissions. Quizzes can be linked to the myCourses Grades tool.

15%

Students will be able to:

  • discuss the benefits and shortcomings of different theoretical models as they apply to real-world problems/actual data.

  • articulate the pros and cons of policy decisions for different stakeholders.

  • make connections between theoretical concepts and ideas discussed in the course, and their own experiences and topics discussed in the news or on social media.

2 short papers (20%, 25%)
Writing short papers encourages students to organize their thoughts on a topic, delve deeper into selected issues, grapple with course material, and practice written communication skills. For example, students can select a news article (from a newspaper or social media) and explain in maximum 750 words the advantages and disadvantages of looking at the topic through the lens of a model discussed in class.

Tools: Have students submit their papers using the Assignments tool in myCourses and provide students with oral or written comments through the same tool in myCourses. Use the Rubrics tool in myCourses to create a rubric that you can attach to the assignment.

45%

Students will be able to:

  • discuss the benefits and shortcomings of different theoretical models as they apply to real-world problems/actual data.

  • articulate the pros and cons of policy decisions for different stakeholders.

  • make connections between theoretical concepts and ideas discussed in the course, and their own experiences and topics discussed in the news or on social media.

For a timed exam, students start it at a time that is convenient for them and once started, have a designated number of hours to complete it.

Make it clear to students before they start the exam which materials are approved for consultation (e.g., course textbook, class notes, any book online).

Tools: Use the Quizzes tool in myCourses to set up an exam with a time limit and a release window.

40%

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Blog posts, peer feedback, video demonstration, learning portfolio

Students will be able to explain study results and implications to a lay audience.

2 short blog posts (10%, 15%)
Students read a study published in an academic journal and then write a blog post of 400-500 words that explains the purpose of the study, the results, and the implications. The writing must be accessible for a lay audience and not include academic jargon.

Writing two posts allows students to practice and receive feedback on a first assignment in order to improve for the second.

Tools: Students submit their blog posts through the Assignments tool in myCourses. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s), or Grader provides students with written or oral feedback comments and grades through the Assignments tool in myCourses, which is linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Alternatively, students submit their blog posts to a Discussion forum for viewing by the whole class. The instructor, Teaching Assistant, or Grader provide feedback comments and a grade in the Discussion forum, which is linked to the myCourses Grades tool.

25%

Students will be able to:

  • identify whether claims have been supported with evidence.

  • describe the structure of a blog post.

Peer feedback on first blog post
By having to comment on the extent to which peers have supported claims and respected the assignment structure, students will develop an awareness of their own ability to meet assignment criteria.

Tools: Assign students to private groups of three in myCourses Discussion forums. Each student provides feedback to the two peers in the group. All students in the group see each other's feedback. The instructor and Teaching Assistant(s) can access all groups. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s), or Grader provides feedback comments and a grade in the Discussion forum, which is linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Large classes will benefit from using Eduflow, a peer assessment tool that is integrated in myCourses.

10%

Students will be able to explain to a lay audience the science behind how X works.

Video demonstration of how X works

  • Written outline (10%)

  • Practice video (15%)

  • Demonstration showcase: 8-10 minute video (20%)

Students submit their topic to the instructor for approval to ensure students are working on different topics. The outline creates a structure in which students must plan their work. A low-stakes practice video allows students to become familiar with the technology. It also allows them to receive feedback comments that they can use to improve their work for the final video submission.

Tools: Students post their outlines to a myCourses Discussion forum. The instructor and Teaching Assistant(s) can post oral or written feedback comments on the outlines. You can set the forum so that students see peers’ outlines once they have posted their own. A grade can also be assigned in the Discussion forum and linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Students submit the practice video using the Video Assignments tool in myCourses. The instructor and Teaching Assistant(s) can post feedback comments at specific places in the video. The demonstration showcase video can be posted in the Discussions tool in myCourses for the whole class to see. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s) or Grader can provide oral or written feedback comments and a grade. The assignment can be linked to the myCourses Grades tool.

45%

Students will be able to:

  • explain concepts related to course content.

  • collaborate on a project.

Learning portfolio
The Portfolio is a tool for facilitating collaboration. It is intended to be a repository for teamwork and a collaboration space. Students regularly document both process and progress as they prepare their demonstration. Regular documentation helps students keep up to date with their course work and is a strategy for fostering academic integrity.

 Tools: Use the Portfolio tool in myCourses.

20%

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Infographic, quizzes, take-home exam

Students will be able to illustrate processes.

Infographic
Students who typically work with text-based material practice conveying information concisely through images. Designing infographics can foster creativity.

Tools: Students can create their infographics using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint and then submit them as PDFs through the Assignments tool in myCourses. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s) or Grader provides students with written or oral feedback comments and grades through the Assignments tool in myCourses, which is linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Alternatively, students post their infographics to a myCourses Discussion forum for viewing by the whole class. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s) or Grader provides feedback comments and a grade in the Discussion forum, which is linked to the myCourses Grades tool.

25%

Students will be able to explain theoretical principles and concepts from the course.

3 quizzes (10% each)
Multiple quizzes allow students opportunities for practice and feedback. Quizzes can include a variety of question types, such as matching and ordering, multiple choice, short answer, and T/F.

Tools: Use the Quizzes tool in myCourses to set up timed quizzes that can auto-grade students’ submissions.

30%

Students will be able to apply theoretical concepts to real-world problems.

Take-home exam with real world scenarios
Students are given three scenarios that illustrate current societal problems. They are asked to explain the scenarios through the lens of a theory discussed during the course.

Take-home exams are exams that students can start, finish, and return to within a designated period of time (e.g., 48 or 72 hours). However, the exam itself should still be of a length and difficulty that would take a reasonable amount of time to complete (e.g., 3 hours).

Make it clear to students before they start the exam which materials are approved for consultation (e.g., course textbook, class notes, any book online).

Tools: Use the Assignments tool in myCourses and link it to the myCourses Grades tool.

45%

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Team project (oral and written components), short written assignments, reflections

Students will be able to:

  • design X.

  • orally defend a design choice.

  • develop team collaboration skills.

Team project

  • Proposal and workplan: choice of topic, rationale for choice, division of responsibilities, timeline (15%)

  • Oral presentation (25%)

Having students submit a proposal and workplan provides focus and encourages students to be accountable to one another. Team projects also have the potential to promote community.

Tools: Students can collaborate using the Groups tool in myCourses, breakout rooms in Zoom, and various tools in Microsoft Teams. Peer assessment of teamwork can be done with Eduflow. Students can submit their outlines through the Assignments tool in myCourses. For the oral presentation, students can use the Video Assignments tool or record themselves using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and share the recording in myCourses with the instructor (using the Assignments tool in myCourses) or the whole class (using the Discussion tool in myCourses). Students can also use Camtasia to record a slide show with audio. “Live” presentations can be done in Zoom.

40%

Students will be able to:

  • apply theoretical concepts to design decisions.

  • do collaborative writing.

3 short written assignments (15% each)
Provide students with questions or prompts to help them advance their design team project (e.g., Find a scholarly article related to the topic of your team project. Discuss how the research described in the article advances knowledge in the topic area.). Students have the option of submitting one of these short written assignments as a group so they can practice their collaborative writing skills.

Tools: Have students submit their writing through the Assignments tool in myCourses and provide students with oral or written comments through the same tool. Set up the assessment scheme using the Rubrics tool in myCourses. You can attach the rubric to the assignment and link the assignment to the myCourses Grades tool.

45%

Students will be able to:

  • draw connections between course content and personal experience.

  • analyze the group’s ability to function as a team.

3 individual reflection questions/prompts (5% each)
Reflections can raise students’ awareness not only of what they are learning but also how they are learning. You can assess reflections according to a simple assessment scheme. Example criteria: question answered completely; response linked to course discussion or personal experience; viewpoints supported by examples.

1 = submitted on time; fewer than half the criteria met
2 = most criteria met
3 = all criteria met

Tools: Have students submit their writing through the Assignments tool in myCourses and provide students with oral or written comments through the same tool. Set up the assessment scheme using the Rubrics tool in myCourses. You can attach the rubric to the assignment and link the assignment to the myCourses Grades tool.

15%

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Quizzes, multi-stage term paper, discussions

Students will be able to:

  • identify relevant points in selected readings.

  • draw connections among ideas.

4 quizzes (10% each)
Regular quizzes help students keep up with course readings and maintain engagement with course content. Frequent, low-stakes assignments have the potential to promote student well-being as they allow students to become familiar with the assessment type and minimize the stress for each quiz.

Tools: Use the Quizzes tool in myCourses to set up short answer response questions. Short answers can be auto-graded in myCourses. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s), or Grader can provide feedback comments and a grade on written responses (i.e., long answers). The Quizzes tool can be linked to the myCourses Grades tool.

40%

Students will be able to:

  • identify relevant points in selected readings.

  • support an argument with evidence.

  • demonstrate research and synthesizing skills.

  • draw connections among ideas.

  • provide constructive feedback to peers.

Term paper submitted in stages

  • Submission of outline, including working thesis statement, to two peers for feedback (5%)

  • Submission of draft to instructor (10%)

  • Final paper (25%)

Multi-stage assignments (see an example on p. 19 of this TLS resource document) encourage students to develop their ideas incrementally over time and avoid deferring work until the night before it's due. Asking students to provide evidence of their work is a strategy for promoting academic integrity. You do not have to provide feedback on all stages of the assignment. For example, you can give students a deadline for submitting a first draft and assign 3% of their grade for completion. Asking students to engage in peer feedback can be a way to build community in the class.

Tools: Students can submit annotated bibliographies, draft papers, and final papers through the Assignments tool in myCourses. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s), or Grader can provide oral and written feedback comments, and a grade with the Assignments tool, which can be linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Peer feedback can be set up in myCourses, for example, by using the Groups tool in myCourses and assigning two or more students to each group. Large classes will benefit from using Eduflow, a peer assessment tool that is integrated in myCourses.

40%

Students will be able to:

  • identify flaws in an argument.

  • draw connections among ideas.

Participation in two discussions (2 x 10%)
Online discussion forums require structure. You can set up forums with headings that align with how content will be addressed throughout the course (e.g., Week 1: [topic], Week 2 [topic]). Post specific questions or other prompts for students to address (e.g., What connections can you make between this week’s topic and current events? Describe how X’s argument could be strengthened.) Let students know what constitutes a quality discussion contribution (e.g., it addresses the question, provides support for claims, and adds one new idea). Ask students to respond to a peer’s post to encourage students to read others’ posts and create a conversation. Consider providing students with examples of both good and poor quality posts so that they understand your expectations. Let students know how their contributions will be assessed (e.g., quality of contributions; quantity of contributions). (Read more about planning discussions.)

Tools: Use the myCourses Discussions tool. The instructor, Teaching Assistant(s), or Grader can provide oral and written feedback comments, and a grade in the Discussion forum, which can be linked to the myCourses Grades tool. Increase student-to-student interaction by allowing students to rate each other’s posts by using a five-star rating system or up/down voting in myCourses.

 

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Flexible assessment

Flexible assessment is a strategy that allows students a decision-making role in how their learning is assessed. The flexibility can pertain to the type of strategy used to assess students’ learning as well as the weight of the assessment tasks. The following examples illustrate implementations of flexible assessment at two Canadian universities. 

Example 1

Flexible assessment in two large upper-level undergraduate courses at a large research-intensive university

In a presentation for members of McGill’s Assessment and Feedback Group, staff from Teaching and Learning Services, and McGill’s then Office for Students with Disabilities, Dr. Candice Rideout, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia, shared an approach to flexible assessment that she designed and uses with students in her large, undergraduate courses.

Example 2

Flexible assessment in an entry-level statistics course

In a session at the University of Waterloo 2021 Teaching and Learning Conference (April 28-29), Michael Wallace, Statistics & Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo, and Kris Siy, Art of Problem Solving, presented their implementation of flexible assessment in three sections of a statistics course.

View a video recording (~15 minutes) of the presentation.

Abstract

Flexible assessment is a form of flexible learning where students are offered choice in how they are assessed. Examples include optional assessments, multiple weighting schemes, or a choice of assessment type. Despite being an important example of flexible learning more generally, flexible assessment has received comparatively little attention in the educational literature [1] and studies of it have reported varying conclusions [4] [5].

Funded by a LITE Seed Grant, we conducted a study of flexible assessment in an entry-level statistics course at the University of Waterloo in Fall 2018. The course offered a flexible grading scheme where some assessments could be missed without penalty. Using two surveys, students were invited to discuss why they did (or did not) miss an assessment, whether (and how) the flexible grading scheme affected their studies, and if they perceived benefits 'beyond the classroom' (such as to their health and well-being).

We present initial findings from the study, based on data from approximately 300 students in the class (75% of total enrolment). We highlight common themes among the reasons given for missing or writing an assessment, and discuss the relationship between missed assessments and performance in the course as a whole. Overall, students believed flexible assessment was beneficial to their academic performance (both in the course under study and their other courses) as well as to their general well-being.

Take-aways

  • Students perceive flexible assessments as being beneficial. These benefits are not limited to academic performance in the course in which the flexible grading scheme is used, but also in their other courses and more generally to their health and well-being.

  • Missed assessments were most commonly attributed to time limitations, feeling ill-prepared, or to help reduce strain on well-being. Those who wrote assessments perceived them to help maximize grades, test knowledge, or prepare them for later assessments.

  • Most respondents (54.7%) reported they engaged differently with the course as a result of the flexible grading scheme, such as feeling reduced stress or pressure (26.2%), putting in less effort (12%), or working more effectively (5%).

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References