A term paper is a common final assignment, but does the final assignment have to be a paper? The answer depends on the type of course and the learning outcomes. If the final assignment can be an alternative to the term paper, we can consider other types of assignments that allow students not only to accomplish the learning outcomes, as expected, but also to engage more deeply with the content and exercise critical thinking. A caveat related to the discipline is important here. Fields that require a writing component may necessarily rely on the term paper which can be scaffolded through a set of stages. For assignments with a sequence of tasks, refer to staged assignments (Loftin, 2018) for details on how to design them.
A first step in moving towards considering other types of assessments is to self-reflect on the purpose of the course and what role it will play in students’ learning journeys. You can use some of the following questions as a guide to self-reflect:
|Focus level||Initial self-questions|
|Course||What is the nature of the course (e.g., practice-based, reading-intense, general education, writing-intensive, labs, etc.)? |
What are the outcomes?
What level do the outcomes target (e.g., recall, analysis, evaluation)?
|Discipline||What do people in the discipline I teach regularly do in the work environment? Do they: write grants? or develop lesson plans? write technical reports? write articles or white papers? build portfolios? demonstrate skills? and so on… |
Do all students need to complete the final assignment in the same format or can the format vary (e.g., paper, presentation, podcast)?
Taking some time to reevaluate the assessment practices in your course might be beneficial for your students who seek meaningful learning opportunities and expect relevant assignments (Jones, 2012; ). Students might also welcome variety and flexibility in how they learn and be evaluated (ASU Prep Digital, 2021; Soffer et al., 2019).
Let’s explore alternative and authentic assessments next.
Alternative authentic assessments tend to focus on high-order and critical thinking skills –skills much appreciated these days. These assessments aim to provide more effective methods of increasing knowledge, fostering learning, and analyzing learning (Anderson, 2016; Gehr, 2021). Research also suggests that authentic assessments can increase students’ employability skills (Sotiriadou et al., 2019). However, the implementation of alternative assessments needs to transcend the status quo and become a critical element that allows instructors and students to focus on societal issues, acknowledge the value of assessment tasks, and embrace these assessments as vehicles for transforming society (McArthur, 2022). A student-centered environment also challenges educators to search for alternative assessments to make the learning experience more meaningful and lasting –fostering student agency and lifelong learning (Sambell & Brown, 2021).
I recall that when I was learning English, some of the types of practices and assessments did not really equip me to use the language outside the classroom. I thought that I would not go around the world and select choices from my interlocutors as I used to do through the language quizzes in class. I have been motivated by the Task-Based Language Teaching framework to focus on designing tasks (for learning and assessment) that help students use their knowledge and skills beyond the classroom –more useful and realistic tasks.
Authentic assessments provide students with opportunities to apply what they learn to situations that they likely will encounter in their daily life. These situations will not be well-structured, easy to solve, and formulaic (like the English language practices I had); to the contrary, these situations will be complex, involve a real audience, require judgment, and require students to use a repertoire of skills to solve the problems and tasks (Wiley, n.d.).
As you may see, alternative and authentic assessments can overlap, giving educators options to innovate their teaching and providing students opportunities to increase interest and engagement with their learning process. Below, you will see a collection of ideas for assessments that go beyond the term paper and give room for course innovations, learning exploration, and student agency.
Examples of Alternative and Authentic Assessments
You can select one or more assessments and create a sequence of assignments that build the foundation, give students an opportunity to reflect, and engage students in the active application of concepts. Diversifying the types of assessment practices can also serve as an inclusive teaching approach for your students to engage with the course in multiple ways (McVitty, 2022).
Introduction to New Concepts
students to these new ideas by designing simple and direct tasks such as:
- Listen to podcasts, watch documentaries/films: write summaries or reviews
- Conduct field observations: report what was observed, thoughts, and feelings
- Create fact sheets and posters: share them with peers and provide comments
- Study a case: write a report, design a visual abstract, create a data visualization or presentation
- Create an infographic or digital prototype: present it to peers for feedback
- Write a short newspaper article: contribute to the class blog, post it on the class digital board
- Provide insights and comments: contribute with annotations and posts (e.g., Perusall, VoiceThread)
Reflection allows students to think further about their own learning process. If you are looking for activities to instill in students higher-order thinking skills and metacognitive skills, you can consider designing one of the tasks below. Remember to provide students with guiding questions for the reflection process.
- Review assignments and describe the learning journey: Create a portfolio with reflective notes
- Develop an understanding of concepts by identifying areas of difficulty and feedforward goals: write a weekly learning log, create a learning journey map/graph
- Describe your learning experience through personal reflection: write an autoethnography
- Connect course concepts and activities to learning experiences: create a think-out-loud presentation, podcast, or paper
- Self-assess learning and progress: take a quiz, write a journal, create a learning map: “from here to there”)
- Demonstrate a solid understanding of key elements, theory strengths, and weaknesses: write an application paper to explore lines of inquiry, create an infographic connecting theory and examples, write an article or artifact critique through the lens of the theory
- Dissect a theory by identifying and organizing the key components of theoretical frameworks: develop a theory profile document or presentation (instructor can create a dissect theory template)
- Anchor course concepts in the literature: write a position paper, a response paper, or a commentary for a journal.
- Guided interviews with professionals
- Digital and augmented reality assets
- Grant/funding applications
- Project/conference proposals
- Annotated bibliographies, article critiques
- Reviews (e.g., music, videos, films, books, articles, media)
- Oral discussion group exam (e.g., cases, scenarios, problem-solving) w/reflection
- Conduct Failure Mode and Effect Analysis studies/simulations
- Book newsletter, blog, and book live event Q&A (e.g., students plan the Q&A)
- Create a student-led OER
- Patchwork Screencast Assessment (PASTA) Reflections
The list of alternative and authentic assessments provided above is not exhaustive and I would welcome your comments and suggestions for the activities that you might have designed or researched for your online or hybrid courses. I would love to hear more about your approaches and thoughts on alternative and authentic assessments.
Anderson, M. (2016). Learning to choose, choosing to learn: The key to student motivation and achievement. ASCD.
ASU Prep Digital. (2021). Why Do Students Prefer Online Learning? https://www.asuprepdigital.org/why-do-students-prefer-online-learning/
Gher, L. (2021, March 11). How using authentic digital assessments can benefit students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-using-authentic-digital-assessments-can-benefit-students/#:~:text=With%20this%20method%20of%20assessment,of%20the%20comments%20and%20responses.
Jones, S. J. (2012). Reading between the lines of online course evaluations: Identifiable actions that improve student perceptions of teaching effectiveness and course value. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(1), 49-58. http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v16i1.227
Jopp, R., & Cohen, J. (2022). Choose your own assessment–assessment choice for students in online higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 27(6), 738-755. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1742680
Loftin, D. (2018, April 24). Staged assignments. [Oregon State University Ecampus blog post] https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2018/04/24/staged-assignments/
McArthur, J. (2022). Rethinking authentic assessment: work, well-being, and society. Higher Education, 1-17. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10734-022-00822-y
McVitty, D. (2022). Building back learning and teaching means changing assessment. Wonkhe Ltd.
Soffer, T., Kahan, T. & Nachmias, R. (2019). Patterns of Students’ Utilization of Flexibility in Online Academic Courses and Their Relation to Course Achievement. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i4.3949
Sotiriadou, P., Logan, D., Daly, A., & Guest, R. (2020). The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skill development and employability. Studies in Higher Education, 45(11), 2132-2148. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1582015
Sambel, S., & Brown (2021). Covid-19 assessment collection. Assessment, Learning, and Teaching in Higher Education. https://sally-brown.net/kay-sambell-and-sally-brown-covid-19-assessment-collection/
Wiley University Services. (n.d.). Authentic assessment in the online classroom. https://ctl.wiley.com/authentic-assessment-in-the-online-classroom/