Director’s Blog

Pandemic Pedagogy: Assessment Woes Part Two

by | Nov 17, 2020 | Director's Blog

In Part One, I shared some background thoughts and experiences on assessment. In short, there’s no magic solution that eliminates cheating. So instead, let’s focus on making better assessments and celebrate the students who are trying their best. While the advice I offer may not work for you, I hope it will at least inspire you to shift your attention off cheating to students who are doing the work and learning. Here we go:

  • Avoid high-stakes assessments. Exams or papers that are worth 50% or more of a student’s grade cause stress and fear which can lead to more cheating. Instead, break large assessments down into low-stakes chunks that are dispersed throughout the quarter. Smaller, more frequent quizzes, a paper written in sections over the quarter – find ways to hold students accountable through less stressful forms of assessment.
  • Make room for mistakes. Does your class allow for students to make mistakes, learn from them, and still pass the class? Or does one bad exam or paper mean a student fails the class? Again, cheating often happens when students are stressed about their grade. So alleviate that stress by implementing policies such as dropping the lowest quiz grade or the opportunity to rewrite one paper. Low-stakes assessments plus flexible policies that allow for mistakes (or life emergencies) lessens the need for students to cheat.
  • Include reflection in the assessment. Make it harder for students to cheat by including elements of reflection in your exams and papers. Instead of just providing an answer, have students briefly describe their thinking on an exam. Or instead of solving a problem, give them an incorrect formula/theory/workflow and ask them to describe where and how it is wrong. In papers, have students tie in their own experiences with the subject matter. Or have them reflect on how their opinions or knowledge on a topic have changed after writing this paper or completing this project. The goal is to get the student to focus on their thinking versus regurgitating an answer. I realize these suggestions can make grading more difficult or time consuming.
  • Give students a choice. When possible, offer students other ways to demonstrate their learning. Could they make a short video of them explaining a concept or solving a problem? Again, I know this can make grading more difficult but I often find that allowing students to express themselves in creative ways leads to better learning and less cheating. Give students the opportunity to surprise you. I’ve seen students create graphic novels, write plays, perform skits, and more as forms of assessment. Plus it is way more interesting to grade assessments like these.

None of these changes are easy, so try your best with the resources you have. Unfortunately there will always be cheating, but we can make it less likely to happen.

In other news…

What I’m currently reading: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This novel has a powerful writing style and a strong beginning. I found the story dragging a bit by the end, but the writing kept me going.

What I’m currently drinking: Cooler weather (for California) means a wintery drink, so I recently made a spiced honey bourbon old fashioned. Even though it required extra work by making the syrup ahead of time, the aroma alone made it worth it.

Andrea Aebersold

Andrea Aebersold

Director, Faculty Instructional Development

Andrea Aebersold is the Director of Faculty Instructional Development at University of California, Irvine. She earned a PhD in English and was an associate professor of teaching before coming to UCI. She specializes in active learning, evidence-based teaching, and reading mountains of books.