Assessing student learning

Our classrooms should be equitable and inclusive spaces for student learning to happen. Assessments, when designed effectively, provide great opportunities for students to engage in deep learning and for the instructor to gauge understanding, provide feedback, and assign grades.

key tips

  • Think of assessment as opportunities for students to learn with equity and inclusion as the foundation to create effective learning spaces for all students.

  • To determine the most appropriate types of assessment to use, consider the purpose of assessment and the learning goals of the course.

  • Allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways by incorporating formative assessments, ample feedback, alternative summative assessments, peer review, and many opportunities to reflect, correct, and revise.

  • Focus on higher order skills of analysis, critical thinking, problem solving and communication of thought process and solutions, as opposed to factual recall.

  • Spread assessment throughout the term, rather than relying on a small number of high-stakes exams or final papers.

  • Provide opportunities for and encourage collaborative work.

  • Allow (or require) students to consult many sources to answer questions, as we do in the real world

  • Talk to your students early and often about academic integrity.

  • Consider the grading labor for each assessment.

types of Assessments (Beyond Testing)

When we think of assessment, we often think of high-stakes activities like timed and final exams and theses, but there are other ways to assess student learning, and some may be more closely aligned with your learning objectives.

Formative assessment encourages learning like nothing else. Formative (as opposed to summative) assessment allows students to practice in a "low stakes" environment and allows you to gauge students’ progress, point them in the right direction, make suggestions, provide encouragement and praise, identify gaps, and correct misunderstandings. Formative and low stakes assessments are any activity on the way to a culminating (i.e., final or summative) assessment for which you assess students’ performance. They serve many purposes in good teaching. Breaking down large assignments into smaller chunks with embedded formative low-stakes assessment can:

  • help students to better assess their progress and manage their time;

  • help instructors to learn where and how supplemental help needs to be provided to ensure that all students are equitably prepared; and

  • help establish a learning environment through review and regular communications between students and the instructor.

Check out these examples of alternative assessments. They may not work for all courses, subjects, or sets of learning outcomes, but they will give you a sense of the possibilities of assessment. (You'll notice that all of these assessments also serve as learning activities.)

grading labor considerations

Changing your assessment structure will inevitably mean the labor of giving feedback and of grading will need to be adjusted.

  • Especially in larger courses, intersperse self assessment, such as autograded Canvas quizzes, with graded assessments, or consider adding one higher point value open-ended question into a multiple choice test.

  • Keep in mind that timely feedback is important for learning, so consider the frequency and type of assessment methods.

  • Additionally, consider using peer- and self-evaluation with rubrics as an alternative to reducing the frequency of your assessments.

providing feedback

The FIDeLity model is a useful way to think about providing feedback (and a rather clunky acronym):

Frequent: Give feedback daily, weekly, or as frequently as possible. This can be done via comments in Speedgrader or through automatically generated feedback in quiz questions.

Immediate: Give feedback as soon as possible. Make sure that you schedule time for yourself immediately after students submit their work.

Discriminating: Make the differences among poor, acceptable, and exceptional work as clear as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to use a grading rubric (see example rubrics here and/or learn more through the Integrated Course Design for Remote Instruction course offered by Online Education and CITL).

Loving: Be compassionate in the way you give feedback. Harsh feedback is typically received as punishment, and punishment leads to aversion.

Effective feedback should:

  • Facilitate the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning.

    • Tip: Ask students what kinds of feedback they would like.

    • Tip: Assign reflective activities.

  • Encourage instructor to student and student to student dialogue around learning.

    • Tip: Ask students to identify examples of feedback they found helpful.

    • Tip: Use guided peer review.

  • Help clarify what good performance is (the goals, criteria, and standards expected).

  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.

  • Deliver high quality information to students about their learning.

    • Tip: Relate feedback to predefined criteria.

    • Tip: Provide actionable feedback, not just information about strengths and weaknesses.

  • Encourage positive motivation.

    • Tip: Use low-stakes assessments for formative feedback.

    • Tip: Make grades final only after giving students a chance to revise.

  • Provide information to instructors that can be used to shape further instruction.

    • Tip: Ask students to identify what they find difficult when they submit work.

    • Tip: Use anonymous one-minute papers with the Canvas Survey feature at the end of a class section to check for understanding.

incorporating peer review

Peer review of assessments, when supported by a detailed rubric and explanation from the instructor, can be powerful opportunities for students to learn from their peers.

  • Peer review can be conducted through Canvas where a rubric can be built into the assessment and each student can be automatically assigned a particular number of reviews to complete.

  • Peer review can also be done informally and anonymously by asking students to complete a question on a Google Doc and either leave their name off or provide just a student ID. They then pass the work 3-5 times to maintain anonymity and then work with a partner to see how they could improve on the answer they received. Again, a detailed rubric is important to support students in providing the right level of feedback. This activity works well even in large lecture courses.

  • Discussing with students the difference between helpful and unhelpful feedback can deepen the learning experience. For example, “this is great” is not particularly helpful positive feedback but “I liked how you explained X, but I was still a little confused by your statement Y” is more useful for the person receiving the feedback.

Academic integrity

Trying to Stop Cheating is a Losing Game: Focus on Academic Integrity Instead

Research and experience suggest that developing elaborate plans to stop cheating—especially to stop cheating in digital environments—is a losing game, for at least two reasons:

  1. By focusing narrowly on the chance that a few students will cheat, we message to our students that we don’t trust them. They are likely to respond to those low expectations in kind. They see that we expect that at least some of them will cheat, and they do not wish to be disadvantaged by those who do.

  2. By overly messaging the more draconian strategies we have developed to stop cheating, we, in essence, give students and other bad actors a roadmap to how to circumvent our cheating abatement plans. The internet is full of easy to access strategies for cheating with nearly every digital cheating abatement tool available. See below for more on messaging.

Furthermore, by attempting to replicate in person examinations in online settings, we fail to recognize that a change of medium may require a change of design.

At the level of design, lots of materials are available online for using technology to make quizzes and exams more cheat-proof and for preventing some of the most common ways students cheat in online exams. CITL is happy to consult on best practices for designing exams in Canvas that make cheating difficult.

Promoting Academic Integrity

As naïve as it may seem, you may get better results by promoting academic integrity than by trying to stop cheating. You can find out more information about this approach on websites developed by MIT and UCSD, among others. Perhaps the most that you, as an instructor, can do is to present to students with a strong argument for the benefits of maintaining their integrity, while developing minimally cheat-proof assignments.

Promoting academic integrity involves making explicit to students that no matter how well or poorly they do on the exam, sacrificing their integrity is not worth it.

  • You could develop an honor code that you ask students to sign or initial at the start of each exam, or you could ask them to copy or retype a brief statement affirming that what follows is their own work.

  • If you would prefer to avoid continually asking your students to make a pledge, then just ask them at the end of the exam to compile a list of the external resources they consulted while taking the exam.

While this kind of transparency is not possible for all classes, it stops the "cat and mouse" dimension of monitoring for plagiarism and cheating by helping students to understand that scholarly work is work that builds on the work of others without trying to hide the reliance on sources.

Most importantly, you might want to discuss the following points with your students:

  1. When you cheat, you circumvent an opportunity to solidify your learning. While this may benefit you in the short run, it will catch up with you eventually.

  2. Once you have engaged in cheating, you will likely enter your next course unprepared. This will lead to the likelihood of further cheating in the future.

  3. The stress and anxiety that come from cheating on a test will almost certainly outweigh the stress of preparing to the best of your ability. Moreover, the stress and anxiety that come from cheating remain with you after you take the exam. Nearly all people who have cheated on a test or plagiarized someone else's work remember having done so for the rest of their lives.

Practical Steps for Creating Successful Academic Integrity Syllabus Statements

Keep in mind that students enter your class thinking that cheating is wrong, and will generally try to avoid cheating. Research on our campus indicates that many, if not most, acts of cheating arise from a combination of

  1. genuine confusion about what constitutes cheating; and

  2. desperation to get an assignment in on time.

Students need to be informed about the specifics of how the academic integrity policy is being implemented in your course.

  • Will students be permitted to work in groups? Under what circumstances? How will you grade work done collaboratively? If you allow consulting between students, consider asking them to record with whom they collaborated to complete the assignment.

  • Give detailed guidance about whether students may use external sources on their homework, quizzes, or exams. What kinds of external sources are allowable, and how do you want them cited?

  • If the use of websites like Chegg or Course Hero is not permissible for homework and/or for exams, say so in your policy. Given that it is now possible for instructors to retrieve access logs from Chegg, let your students know that you have this capacity and whether or not you intend to use it. In cases where instructors have "caught" students by retrieving logs from Chegg, students have repeatedly said that, had they known instructors could do that, they would not have consulted Chegg. You may save yourself some trouble through communicating this ahead of time.

  • Some instructors have begun adopting a "24-hour rule" (actual amount of time may vary) that allows students to substitute an assignment for the one they originally turned in. Some instructors have found that the "weight" of having committed academic misconduct leads students to want to retract the work and substitute one that contains work that is entirely their own.

  • Provide Teaching Assistants or graders with the policy well in advance. Invite their feedback about whether the policy is understandable and sufficiently comprehensive. Many Teaching Assistants are on the front line of discovering student academic misconduct, and may have valuable advice on how to strengthen or clarify your policy.

  • Take time in class to communicate the policy to your students, and include a clear statement on your syllabus (see sample here). You can also ask your TAs to spend time in section going over the academic integrity policy for your class in the first week.

  • Encourage your students to communicate with you and your TAs if they are unsure about what constitutes cheating, or if they are having difficulties completing an assignment. If you can help students problem-solve before they cheat, you may not only prevent cheating but also strengthen learning.

  • To help ensure that your students understand the policy, consider having them complete a Quiz in Canvas that checks their understanding of the policy. Some instructors also ask students to sign a pledge to accept the academic misconduct policy.

      • To have this loaded into your course in Canvas, along with other campus resources, do this or contact

SAMPLE STUDENT STATEMENT TO INCLUDE AT THE START OF YOUR DIGITAL ASSESSMENT (signature/acknowledgement can be an online question they must agree to)

As a student at UC Santa Cruz, I hold myself to a high standard of integrity, and by signing/accepting the statement below I reaffirm my pledge to act ethically by honoring the UC Santa Cruz Code of Student Conduct. I will also encourage other students to avoid academic misconduct.

I acknowledge that the work I submit is my individual effort. I did not consult with or receive any unauthorized help from any person or other source. I also did not provide help to others. I may work with others or consult other resources only if the instructor gave specific instructions, and only to the extent allowed by the instructor.

Signature (or checkbox acknowledgement)

For information about UCSC's Privacy Policy, click here.

A Note about online PROCTORING (if you must)

Some courses and subjects may require timed high-stakes exams, which always present the risk of academic integrity breaches. Online proctoring is an imperfect solution. Challenges include:

  • The need for students to have a strong and reliable internet connection for the duration of the exam;

  • The need for students to have a functioning microphone and webcam;

  • The likelihood that a small number of students will have technical issues that may prevent them from completing said exam;

  • The possibility that students’ unfamiliarity with online proctoring will exacerbate stress related to exam taking, resulting in diminished performance;

  • The labor associated with scheduling and configuring the exam, and reviewing possible breaches.

If online proctoring is necessary for your course, there are two options: ProctorU, and DIY proctoring with Zoom.


ProctorU is a service that can proctor exams that are submitted through Canvas or other online platforms. On the day of the exam, each student is greeted via webcam by a live proctor, who reviews the student's surroundings, checks the student's identification (two forms are required), takes partial control of the student's computer, and signs the student into the exam in Canvas. The rest of the exam is monitored and recorded (webcam, computer screen, audio) by a computer program that automatically flags potential cheating behavior. The instructor will be able to review any recordings that are flagged.

Proctoring is sponsored by the university and there is typically no fee for students, but there are limitations:

  • The exam must be created online (no scanning of paper-based work is allowed);

  • Students will have staggered start times in an exam window that may last as long as eight hours;

  • You must schedule the exam at least two weeks in advance;

  • Students must have a functional web camera and microphone;

  • Students must register to take the exam at least 72 hours in advance; if not, students must pay a late fee of $5 for scheduling between 24 and 72 hours before the exam and $8 for scheduling less than 24 hours before the exam; and

  • Specificity in the instructions you provide is essential as proctors do not interpret or make exceptions to exam rules.

The current volume of use across the country is putting significant strain on the companies that provide online proctoring. Even in the best of times, there are technical issues that prevent a small number of students from completing exams, and some students may have long wait times to begin the exam. You are encouraged to carefully consider these significant issues as you weigh the necessity of using ProctorU for your course. Due to its high cost for the university, the use of ProctorU is limited to two exams per course.

If you still want to use ProctorU, this form must be submitted for each exam and should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the exam date. The form requires the Canvas URL of your exam however the exam does not need to be fully built at time of submission.


Proctoring with Zoom is an alternative to ProctorU. This method is less invasive for students' digital privacy (no remote computer control), and potentially less stressful for students as they have had more experience with Zoom. However, there are still limitations to Zoom Proctoring:

  • Students may not have a working camera on their computer;

  • Large class sizes with no TA assistance can be difficult to monitor;

  • It is unlikely that you will know whether students are using unpermitted materials during the exam;

  • Providing appropriate DRC accommodations while still ensuring student privacy may require a separate examination period; and

  • It is difficult to ensure that students complete the exam before signing off of Zoom.


Here are some additional resources on assessment and academic integrity:

  • What are inclusive assessment practices? Tufts University, 2020. This resource from Tufts’ Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching describes key principles of inclusive assessment and effective practices, including a resource of 50 inclusive assessment techniques.

  • Considering Integrity in Assessments for Large Classes, Leanne Stevens, Dalhousie University Centre for Learning and Teaching. This is simple and useful set of recommendations for ensuring academic integrity with automatically graded assessments.

  • Encouraging Academic Integrity Online, University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence. This guide offers practical tips for designing assignments, quizzes, and exams in ways that discourage cheating. It also includes tips for educating college students about academic integrity.

  • Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Reference), James M. Lang, Harvard University Press, 2013. In this book (available online for through the UCSC library), Lang seeks to empower teachers to create more effective learning environments and assessments that foster intrinsic motivation, promote mastery, and instill the sense of self-efficacy that students need for deep learning.

  • Keep Calm and Keep Teaching, Jody Greene (UCSC CITL), Inside Higher Education, March 17, 2020. Greene offers reflections on academic integrity and other topics related to remote instruction.