Another Look at Non-Traditional Assessments

(I originally write this article for the BYU-I Teaching and Learning Blog, but I re-posted it here for my teaching colleagues who are not at that University). 

A few weeks ago, I helped with the remote roundups on a panel called “Remote and Alternative Assessments” in which we presented different ideas on how we do assessments in a digital class. It became apparent after I presented that the teachers only wanted to learn about traditional assessments (using proctorio, etc.) rather than the alternative assessments that I was suggesting. In fact, after the meeting, one of my colleagues inferred that there was no real merit to what I was doing because, after all, I taught in the Religion department and there we have no real outcomes or benchmarks to which we must adhere. I’ve been pondering that response for quite some time, and I believe I have some additional thoughts to share to help make the importance of non-traditional assessments clear. 

First (in case any were wondering) in the Religion department, we do have real learning outcomes that our students must achieve. For example, one of the alternative assessments that I shared was a website for the Eternal Family Course (REL 200). During the class, we had the students work in teams to create a website that taught about different issues that effect the family unit in our world today. One of our learning outcomes for this course is that students Teach & Declare the Doctrine, obviously this assessment hits that desired outcome.  However, I could also make a case that this particular assessment ties into all four of  the BYUI learning outcomes – that students become 1). Disciples of Jesus Christ, 2). Sound Thinkers, 3). Effective Communicators, and 4). Skilled Collaborators. 

In fact, I would guess that it is much easier to tie alternative assessments to desired outcomes and benchmarks than traditional assessments.

However, that is not the only benefit of alternative assessments. Consider for a moment, the real-world and cross learning  applications that these students now have as a result of that course. Each student had to create a website (both a personal one and then collaborate on a team website) – consider how this current (COVID-19) crisis has taken each of us into the digital world – and perhaps one can see the merits in learning from this particular type of non-traditional assessment. 

There is a drawback though, it does take more time to grade a non-traditional assessment.  In the long run, it is a lot faster to create a quick quiz or proctored digital exam allowing the computer to do the bulk of the work. And while I’ll admit that there are merits to traditional methods of assessment, if we want to truly see the students engage with the content of our courses (and remember those concepts well into the future),  then we may want to take a second look a the power of non-traditional assessments. These creative assessments benefit the learning of the student and help us engage much more richly with the students, allowing us to mentor them (which I believe is another benchmark that this Institution is known for). Perhaps now, a discussion on grading and rubrics is in order – but we’ll have to save that for another time. 

For now, I leave you with some other ideas about Alternative Assessments:

My hope in writing this post is that we can further the conversation about Assessments at BYU-I, as well as to look at the benefits and merits of non-traditional assessments, especially as these types of assessments help to create a depth of learning and engagement that can bless both our students and this University.