Aerial view of Washington Square Park at sunset

Assessment Approaches

Traditionally, many higher education institutions have leaned toward a “high-stakes” assessment model where testing takes place at a set time and place for all students.  Research does tell us that “goal directed practice coupled with targeted feedback is critical for learning.”* Therefore we recommend a more “low-stakes” assessment strategy where students have the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge through a variety of frequent, lower-stakes assessments throughout the course. The following sections will cover a few of the more useful assessment distinctions.

*Ambrose, Susan A., Bridges, Michael W., DiPietro, Michele, Lovett, Marsha C., and Norman, Marie K.. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2010. Accessed August 11, 2021. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Formative & Summative Assessment

Obtaining student feedback is always a challenge. Depending on the teaching modality, it can be even harder to know how things are going for our students. It is critical to find means to assess students’ progress, thinking, and relationship to the class.

One way to do that is to add ongoing, frequent, and usually lower-stakes assessments to your course, in the hopes of guiding students, but also alerting both you and them if there are issues. Formative assessments can help with that, as long as we understand where they are of the most use.

Why formative …

  • To provide ongoing and frequent feedback
  • To impact further learning
  • To guide instruction
  • To be itself an opportunity for learning

Why summative …

  • To provide a cumulative assessment
  • To offer a standardized approach
  • To diagnose progress/readiness for matriculation or next level competency or certification
  • To ease grading (sometimes)

Asynchronous & Synchronous Assessment

Whether to save in-class time, leverage non-class periods, or simply offer a variety of assessment experiences, you may find yourself thinking about incorporating alternative assessments in your course, along with what we might think of as traditionally synchronous assessment. Some of the most effective assessments can be completed asynchronously, freeing class time for work that takes advantage of the students’ presence in the room. They also often have the benefit of aligning with and effectively measuring what our students are learning. 

This chart may help you think about opening up your course to a blend of asynchronous & synchronous assessments:

Assessments: Blending Synchronous and Asynchronous

Traditional synchronous assessmentQualities we
hope to preserve
asynchronous solutions
  • Measuring knowledge at a particular time
  • Ease of grading
  • Academic integrity violations
  • Rapid building of ideas off other ideas
  • Modeling of thinking and responding (provided by instructor as well as other students)
  • Discussion will lack energy of face-to-face
  • Students will not build off ideas
  • Google Chat (with history) can create more rapid interaction. It can be assessed via a rubric or # of responses.
  • Assessing discussion only during specific ranges of time can create urgency.
  • A rubric that specifically assesses how students build off other students’ comments can increase interaction.
  • Audience participation (giving feedback, asking questions)
  • Practice of “real life” presentation skills
  • Lack of audience
  • Having students respond via Annoto to recorded (NYU Stream) video presentations can generate specific responses.
  • Participation can also be encouraged by requiring specific frequency and level of responses via rubric.

Assessments: Evaluating Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities

You may also want to begin by mapping out an overall assessment strategy: think through what you do (or plan to do) and identify gaps, weaknesses, or areas where you may be using the same sort of assessment again and again.

You can use this chart to help you plan for alternate assessment strategies:

Traditional assessment activityPotential
What I want
students to know
How will
I assess?
Evaluate student participation in discussions SYNCHRONOUS
  • Zoom with comments (through the chat function or spoken aloud)
  • Digest key content
  • Work with others
  • Apply concepts to new situations
  • Be able to form and defend an argument
  • Think critically
  • Converse professionally with others who may have differing opinions
  • Assess via number of comments
  • Assess via quality of comments (using a rubric, students can also assess themselves or each other)
  • Assess via length of comments
Write in margins of physical copies SYNCHRONOUS
  • Short video conferences via Zoom or Hangouts
  • Key concepts
  • Comment bank
  • Identify key points and then suggest student find further instances without repeating language
  • Rubric
Long-term group projects SYNCHRONOUS
  • Occasional Zoom meetings with chat comments
  • Key content
  • How to apply a concept
  • How to answer questions on the fly
  • Frequent assessment
  • Evaluate understanding with rubric
  • Evaluate application with rubric
In-class group presentations SYNCHRONOUS
  • Zoom presentations, including screen-sharing of PowerPoint slides and class interactions via chat
  • Key concepts
  • How to apply a concept
  • How to answer questions
  • How to effectively give a presentation to an audience
  • How to critique a presentation
  • Evaluate student understanding (using rubric)
  • Evaluate concept application (using rubric)
  • Evaluate performance during presentation
  • Require audience participation (# of questions) and assess quality/depth of questions via rubric
  • Peer assessment of presentations (using rubric)