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Strategies for Assessing Students Remotely

Middle school boy works at laptop computer
(Image credit: Getty Images/Seventyfour)

Assessments can be particularly challenging in a remote learning environment. How can you verify that the students just aren’t Google searching everything? What if their parents are completing the projects for them? 

These and many other questions plagued educators in the spring (pardon the pun). While there is no easy answer for assessing students in a monitored setting, there are strategies that educators can use to make sure students are demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of their learning. 

Defining terms

Before we get into strategies let’s define a few terms that will affect the timing and type of assessments given remotely. Many of these strategies and terms apply with in-person assessments as well.  

Formative vs. Summative: Are you trying to check for understanding or just knowledge of material?

Googleable vs. Non-Googleable: Multiple choice, fact-based assessments can be easily searched online. Assessments that focus more on opinion, process, and student voice are harder to search with Google.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Are you giving the assessment to the whole class at the same time or is it a long-term project? Synchronous assessments lend themselves to multiple-choice type tests whereas asynchronous are generally graded with a rubric in mind. 

assessing students remotely

(Image credit: Carl Hooker)

What is the purpose of the assessment?

Assessments can also hold several different purposes based on student goals and outcomes. The graphic below defines three types. 

The biggest differentiator is whether or not the assessment is formative in nature (a continuous feedback loop) or summative (final outcome). Knowing these types and the corresponding definitions will help as we get into tools and strategies. 

assessing students remotely

(Image credit: Carl Hooker)

Focus on feedback

Feedback is a major part of assessment as it allows students to make corrections and learn from their mistakes. Formative assessments generally involve feedback as part of the process for learning, either from the teacher or the student’s own self-reflection. It can also be done in either a synchronous or asynchronous environment, depending on purpose. 

Some things to focus on when providing feedback:

  • Make sure it’s timely - Providing feedback weeks later doesn’t help the student learn and adjust at the moment of the assessment. 
  • Keep it appropriate and reflective - Encourage students to reflect on their process and what they could do differently to improve. 
  • Provide support - Allow opportunities for students to ask questions and grow. 
  • Be honest - Students need to understand their mistakes to improve. 
  • Medium matters - Giving critical feedback should be done with your own voice in an audio or video format if at all possible. Written feedback that is highly critical doesn’t allow for inflection and can be damaging to the trust and relationship with the student. 

Keeping in mind how you will provide feedback will help as you design your assessments for remote learning. 

Polling for feedback

Before we dive into formative assessments, using polls can be a great way to provide feedback in whole group settings. Polls can be done asynchronously, but generally are posted when you have a whole group on a video call. Some video conferencing platforms such as Zoom provide built-in polling features, or you can always supplement with tools such as Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter, Slido, or Answer Garden.

Synchronous formative assessment 

If the goal is immediate feedback and checking for understanding, giving an assessment synchronously over a video call is the route to go. 

Here are some of the advantages of using a synchronous assessment:

  • Provide instant feedback - Students can adjust immediately based on feedback. 
  • Adjust instruction based on student responses - Teachers can quickly adjust instruction based on how well students understand the content. 
  • Just-in-time support and intervention - Students who are struggling with a concept can be provided support in real-time. 
  • Help demonstrate student knowledge more than understanding 

While there are many tools out there that can help with this, some of the more popular choices include apps such as Kahoot!, Formative, Quizziz, Socrative, and Quizlet.

Gamified assessment

Some formative assessment tools such as Kahoot! and Quizlet Live add a competitive and time-based element that keeps students engaged and makes it harder for them to use Google for their answers. 

Besides these ‘trivia game’-like tools, there are now lots of different ways to do end-of-unit reviews in the form of a game show or even live bingo. A tool such as flippity.net gives teachers in GSuite districts the ability to edit a variety of interactive games with just a Google sheet. Using gamification as a tool for assessment gives teachers another strategy for assessing student understanding and keeps students engaged during synchronous remote learning.

Interactive presentations with embedded assessment 

One of the downsides of using formative assessment tools is that requiring students to log into various platforms can be time consuming and add a layer of technical challenges. Posting a link to the assessments in the LMS or video chat can help with this transition time, but embedding it in an interactive presentation can help keep students on the same page while teaching synchronously. 

Interactive presentation tools such as Nearpod and Pear Deck can keep your students on topic and allow you to send various polls and formative assessments to check for understanding. Both of these tools also allow for a student-paced asynchronous component so that if a student misses the video call or has connectivity issues, they can catch up on their own and still give the teacher what they need.  

Asynchronous remote assessment 

Many teachers only have a limited amount of time with their students in a synchronous video call. Using that time for teaching, discussions, and feedback means that you may not have enough data to truly assess student understanding. Providing asynchronous assessments can mean a little more work, but it can provide a wider range of data points that a multiple choice quiz doesn’t provide. 

Some advantages to designing and providing asynchronous assessment:

  • Flexible time to process - Rather than having to think and respond on the fly, students have more time to research and process to build their understanding. 
  • Not as internet dependent - One of the challenges of giving synchronous assessment is that not every student has the same level of at-home access and may miss parts of a quiz or video call due to connectivity issues. Asynchronous assessments can be done on the student’s pace and are less bandwidth dependent. 
  • Built-in reflection time - Research shows that learning is more internalized when students have an opportunity to reflect on what they have done. 
  • More focused on the process - Learning is a process more than a product. Having high-quality asynchronous assessments provide teachers insight on what a student is thinking. 
  • Help demonstrate understanding more than knowledge 

When choosing the tools for asynchronous assessment, teachers need to focus on those that give students an opportunity to explain their thinking and provide their voice and reflection.

Asynchronous feedback via Learning Management System (LMS) 

Most LMS platforms provide ways for students to submit drafts and gather feedback from teachers and/or their peers. In an asynchronous environment, teachers can utilize built-in tools to give directions, set expectations in a rubric, and provide direct feedback as students check in throughout the process.

Some LMS platforms offer portfolio options that can provide for both the student and teacher a long-term view of progress and growth. Using these features can be cumbersome or limited depending on the LMS, so teachers may need additional tools to provide and catalog asynchronous assessments. 

Tools that provide voice, process, and reflection 

While an LMS can give a space for voice, process, and reflection, it can also quickly be overloaded with announcements, discussion boards, and assignment postings. Having a tool or tools to use specifically for asynchronous assessment can help streamline the process. 

Here are a few platforms that teachers gravitate toward for this purpose:

Flipgrid - A teacher favorite as either an exit-ticket or for just having students share their voice to a question or issue. Flipgrid now also comes with built-in white boarding so that students can record an annotation of their thinking when they respond. 

Book Creator - Now available on any device, Book Creator gives students a chance to have a running interactive journal to document their learning by recording their voice or capturing a hand-drawn picture. Teachers can see their students on a virtual bookshelf to check their progress.

SeeSaw - An LMS-type system that is geared toward younger students. It offers a powerful set of tools for teachers to record verbal feedback for students to hear. 

Bulb Digital Portfolios - An eportfolio tool that gives students space to set goals, reflect, and document their own learning processes. 

Final checklist for remote assessment

As teachers analyze the learning to assess this year, in either a remote or in-person setting, there are a multitude of tools and strategies to help with this process. 

Some final things to consider prior to delivering a remote assessment:

  • Will the assessment be synchronous or asynchronous? 
  • Are you checking for understanding or knowledge? 
  • Can students reflect on the learning process? 
  • Do students have an opportunity to explain their thinking? 

The answers to these questions will help guide educators as they design assessments in the most flexible way heading into what promises to be a very different fall semester of school. 

Note: This article was also given as a presentation that can be viewed here and the links and slides accessed here.