In a meeting earlier today, a faculty member said, “Ok, I think I have a rhythm for my remote class now, but I’m looking ahead and wondering how to wrap things up. What are my options for remote final exams, and can I do something other than a test?”

If you are planning to run a final exam, you can use the Canvas quizzing feature to create, administer, and grade that exam. Canvas allows you to create timed or untimed quizzes using a variety of question types. Canvas provides detailed instructions for setting up quizzes on their Canvas Instructor Guide. You may want to consider offering that exam as an open book exam–check out this blog post for ideas about open-book exams. If you have any questions about the quiz/final you’re planning to administer, please contact dlinq at middlebury dot edu.

If you are looking for alternatives to final exams, here are some ideas that are well suited to remote and online teaching environments:

Digital Storytelling – Digital storytelling involves using digital tools (such as video, audio, images, and more) to craft a story to share with others. Whether you use a more structured approach (such as the Center for Digital Storytelling’s 7 Steps of Digital Storytelling) or create your own assignment, the core ingredients of a digital storytelling assignment include a focused prompt/objective (for example, is this a documentary-style story? A reflection connecting the student’s learning to their own personal experiences? An integrative assignment meant to pull together and demonstrate understanding of various strands of the class?), a defined audience, and parameters around length (ideally no more than 3-5 minutes) and media (do you expect video? images? audio? music?). You’ll also want to decide what you’re going to assess (if you’re not teaching a film and media class, consider focusing on the content rather than the production values). Keep in mind that in a digital storytelling project, the process is as important as the outcome; the research, scripting, storyboarding, and other elements that go into making a digital story are all valuable pieces of the learning experience.

Class presentations/videos – Several faculty have shared plans for students to create final presentations and share them live in Zoom or pre-recorded via Panopto, Voicethread, Flipgrid, or a similar tool. While asking students to present live on Zoom may be the most straightforward approach (barring technology and time zone challenges we face in a live Zoom session), pre-recorded videos offer an opportunity for students to seek peer feedback and other forms of formative input before submitting the final version. Feedback may be offered in a variety of ways–depending on the video platform–including in-video annotations (see how to annotate Panopto videos; Oratory Now uses VoiceThread to annotate student’s oral presentation videos).

Portfolios – Many years ago, I taught in a hybrid Master’s program that required students to create a digital portfolio from their work across the program. Each contribution to the portfolio was accompanied by a reflective statement about the artifact and why the student selected it for the portfolio. I was always surprised by students’ reflections–they highlighted aspects of their learning that would have been rendered invisible by a final exam. Lots of great research on ePortfolios or digital portfolios support their value for summative assessment. How might Middlebury students create a digital portfolio for your class? Consider having them use Google Sites, sites.middlebury (WordPress), or MiddCreate to build their portfolio.

Digital Poster Session – At the same institution where I taught in a hybrid Master’s program, we offered an annual poster session event, much like the Student Research Symposium at Middlebury. Since a large number of our students were unable to present in-person at the event (because they were taking classes from places all over the world), we began hosting an accompanying all-digital poster event. It was a wonderful experience and our far-flung students appreciated the opportunity to participate in the event. Similarly, your students can run a Digital Poster Session in your class. For example, each student could contribute one slide to a shared Google Presentation and present for 5 minutes during a synchronous session. Or, all students could pre-record their presentations (see above) using a tool like Panopto or Flipgrid.

Student-choice – I’ve heard from several professors at Middlebury that they are giving students options for how to submit summative assessments of their learning. Some students might choose to write a paper, while others create videos, and others create digital resources to show their learning. These student-choice approaches can be more challenging to grade, but allowing students the ability to determine the format that allows them to shine the brightest leads to results that are often astonishingly-good.

Reflection – More of an add-on to any of the above ideas than a stand-alone assignment, reflection – and particularly reflecting on one’s learning (metacognition) – provides students an opportunity to gauge their progress over the semester, to understand how they arrived at their current understanding, and to point to persistent questions or issues that may form the basis of future exploration. For example, you might ask students to identify what was challenging about the assignment that they’re reflecting on, or what questions arose during the assignment. Or, you might ask students to think more broadly, beyond one assignment to identify changes in their thinking about a topic, and what specifically from the course contributed to their conceptual change: at the beginning of the semester, I thought that x topic was… and now I think it’s … the discussions we had about the topic changed my thinking because…”

Do you have an alternative to final exams that you would like to share with your colleagues? Let us know! DLINQ and CTLR are hoping to host a faculty conversation to discuss your ideas.

Additional Resources

Using E-Portfolios to Support an Undergraduate Learning Career: An Experiment with Academic Advising, EDUCAUSE Review, https://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/12/using-eportfolios-to-support-an-undergraduate-learning-career-an-experiment-with-academic-advising

Indiana University, Alternatives to Traditional Exams and Papers https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/assessing-student-learning/alternatives-traditional-exams-papers/index.html

Vanderbilt University, Metacognition, https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/

StoryCenter, https://www.storycenter.org/

Image by Pranay Pareek