Skip to main content

Well-designed courses measure students’ learning using both formative and summative assessment tasks. Formative (for learning) assessments are frequent, low-stakes tasks that occur throughout the course. Formative assessment tasks help students gauge their own levels of mastery and help instructors recognize the gaps emerging between what is taught and what is learned. With thorough and timely instructor feedback, these types of tasks also help students retain course content more effectively. Summative (of learning) assessments are more formal tasks—exams, projects, or presentations—that tend to occur at prearranged evaluation times such as the midterm or final weeks of a course. Feedback typically occurs in the form of a high-stakes grade as the instructor makes an evaluation or judgment of student learning.


When preparing an assessment, it is important to consider the following:

  • Does the assessment align with the objectives of the course?
  • What type of feedback will be given, and how will students apply this feedback to future assignments?
  • Regarding a final assessment, how have students practiced the desired skills and received feedback in ways that prepare them for success by the time mastery is expected?

Below are some examples of both formative and summative assessments that can be implemented in online classes. You can ask students to:

Small Classes 1-15 Students


  • Participate in one-on-one interviews with you using the Conferencing tool in Canvas.
  • Submit a screen-capture video in which they explain a created deliverable, such as an Excel spreadsheet or a graphic organizer.
  • Construct a model or physical object. This object may be accompanied by an explanatory video that is uploaded to Canvas.
  • Offer a presentation to the class using the Canvas Conferencing tool.
  • Create a mind map or graphic organizer using PowerPoint or free online tool.
  • Pose questions that pertain to course content in an interview conducted with a community member, subject matter expert, or family member. Record the interview using a phone or similar device and upload this video to Canvas.


Medium Classes 15-50 Students


  • Respond to predetermined prompts using the Canvas Discussion Board, which you can then quickly asses using SpeedGrader.
  • Offer a PowerPoint or other presentation to a subset of students using the Conferencing tool and student groups. Use Studio to record the presentation and submit that video as the final assignment.
  • Create an original infographic or fact sheet exploring a topic taught in class.
  • Write a short two- to three-page reflection or essay.
  • Create an annotated bibliography with an introduction.


Large Classes 50-500 Students


  • Complete a series of smaller low-stakes quizzes instead of a single high-stakes exam. To ensure academic integrity without the use of a proctor, these quizzes should be timed, use randomized questions, and be auto-graded in Canvas.


Best Practices for Online Final Exams

When instructors determine that course objectives are better assessed with a traditional final exam, the Quiz feature in Canvas has the capability to deliver an online test. Below are some strategies that will increase the potential for student academic integrity:

  1. Use the Question Banks feature in Quizzes to store test questions with mixed question styles (multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/false, short essay, etc.). This will allow your quiz to pull from a pool of questions so that students receive similar, but not identical, exams.
    • When creating multiple choice items, shuffle the answer options for questions.
    • When creating fill-in-the-blank items, consider all possible answer options to minimize the possibility of correct answers being automatically graded as incorrect.
    • Create short answer or essay questions that require application of the material; this allows for better assessment of higher-order thinking skills.
  2. Create a quiz that utilizes a variety of the mixed questions you have created. Set the quiz to display one question at a time, and set a time limit for the quiz. Remember that students will likely need double or triple the time it takes you to answer each question.
  3. Ask students to provide identity verification, such as their Banner ID, before initiating the quiz or test.
  4. Set the quiz to reveal answers only after all students have completed it.
  5. Designate a specific window of time in which the test will be available, which will alleviate issues caused by a lack of accessibility.
  6. Provide clear instructions for students regarding how they should proceed with the online final exam, including communicating the format in which it will be given. Consider providing students example questions with which to practice.
  7. Consider creating an online discussion board dedicated to answering questions regarding the final exam.


Alternatives to Traditional Exams

Some of the following alternatives to the traditional format of online testing may provide an appropriate method for assessing your course objectives:

  1. Open-book exam. Consider that open-book final exams are better suited for online delivery where students have full access to the internet. Open-book exams allow for the opportunity to assess higher-order thinking skills, such as application, analysis, evaluation, or creation.
  2. Summary. Consider replacing the final exam with a final summary. Asking students to write a one- or two-page summary of the course’s big ideas compels them to revisit key concepts that were presented throughout the semester.
  3. Course Map. A course map is a visual representation of a course. Structured much like a mind map, a course map provides an overall visual of the content and highlights relationships among key ideas. Students consider the hierarchy of concepts, as well as important connections, when they create a map of the content.
  4. Multimedia Assignment. Students can create an infographic, narrated slideshow, or photo album that highlights their learning in the course.
  5. Pop Culture Analysis. Ask students to identify a clip from a movie or television show and describe how it relates to the key ideas of the course.
  6. Passion Project. Encourage students to select a topic from the course that especially interested them and learn more about it. Allow them to share what they learned in a choice of ways: blog, podcast, video, fact sheet, etc.
  7. Create a Game. Ask students to create a game that could be used with next semester’s class in order to help future students learn the content.


Back To Top