Demonstrating Knowledge: Assessments

How we ask students to demonstrate their learning plays a major role in building a practice and culture of integrity.

Many of the ways we’ve traditionally evaluated students’ knowledge, unfortunately, lend themselves to academic misconduct, or may not set students up for success in meeting the expectations of academic integrity. As academic integrity experts1 argue, assessments that cultivate integrity require a shift from getting students to show us what they know, to showing us how they know it. Such a shift can present pragmatic challenges for instructors, including the time required to evaluate, multi-section courses with common exams, or requirements from external bodies such as professional colleges. In addition to adapting some of the suggestions below, collaborating with colleagues to address these challenges would help share the significant work to support this shift.

While in-person invigilated assessments strive to enforce academic integrity, assessments that reward academic integrity strive to build on a culture of academic integrity.

On this page, understand what you can do to encourage academic integrity through your assessments.


Design considerations

Scaffold assignments

Break assignments into linked, multi-stage components (i.e., “scaffold” them). For example, a final project or paper could have a proposal, draft, presentation, and final product. Scaffolding helps students manage their workload by completing the overall project in smaller “chunks,” so that they do not start the night before and panic. It requires students to demonstrate their understanding of their work in different ways, and, ideally, get feedback on their work-in-progress.

Peer review can be a way to shift this feedback from you. Finally, it dissuades contract cheating because it creates a “document trail” that must be consistent throughout all components.

Adjust your examinations

Construct open-book exams, or try 2-stage exams (PDF), and emphasize having students articulate the process they follow to get to answers, rather than just the answer itself.

For online exams that must follow a more traditional format, use technology to introduce randomness into the questions through Canvas. At a basic level, multiple-choice alternatives can be delivered in random order. Consider dividing up a longer assessment into multiple smaller ones, which reduces the temptation for students to engage in contract cheating.

More sophisticated approaches include random numbers in quantitative questions; multiple versions of the same question with slight differences; question banks; and random ordering of questions. For assistance with the technical aspects of this within Canvas, reach out to the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (UBCV) or the Centre for Teaching and Learning (UBCO).

Consider alternative assessments

Traditional exams are not the only option. Consider alternatives to exams, such as projects and assignments that are similar to the authentic work practitioners do in a discipline. 

As feasible, include oral assessments – such as individual or group quizzes, panel presentations, paper “defences” (showing us their thinking/process). Think about how to support students for whom English is an additional language, who may have one or more disabilities, or for whom public speaking produces considerable anxiety. Share resources for students on academic presentations, such as the Precedents Archive for Scholarly Speaking (PASS), which includes guides to making arguments in oral contexts and citing sources in a presentation.

Challenges to consider when designing assessments

Previous course materials may be available online

Tailor topics or frameworks for projects and papers to be specific to your course rather than generic topics likely covered by online sources, such as Sparknotes or from textbook providers. This strategy also improves student buy-in by allowing them to design a project that reflects their particular interests in the course material.

Consider adding narrative questions that ask students to explain the process they used to solve the problem.

Collaborative group work needs special consideration

Give particular consideration — ideally with student input — to the design and evaluation of academic integrity expectations for group projects, which are, as Lofstrom et al. (2015) note, particularly challenging.3 If there is a violation by one group member, does the entire group suffer the consequences? How will degrees of contribution and shared workload be assessed? Are there group and individual components to the grade? Including clear, explicit policy or instructions about academic integrity expectations for collaborative work, and recommendations or resources in case of internal issues in a group, will support students in this kind of assessment.

Encouraging learning from assessments

Include required self-reflection or self-assessment components, such as exam wrappers or reflections. Such elements not only support academic integrity -requiring students to demonstrate that they did the work-especially when completed in-class, but can also foster meta-cognitive processes in which students think about their learning. Individual reflections can be an effective addition to group projects, as a way to learn more about how each group member contributed.

Tools to help you go further with your assessments

Students are more likely to engage in misconduct when they are under pressure, when there is an opportunity, and when they are able to rationalize it. To reduce pressure, consider how your course assessment design may lead to undue pressure, which reduces student wellbeing and may lead students to make poor decisions. Consider implementing course policies that include taking the best “X out of Y assessments” and reducing reliance on very high stakes assessments. See the academic integrity tools page for information about how to reduce rationalization by being explicit about your expectations of academic integrity and directly teaching what academic integrity means in your disciplinary context. Use technology to support assessment integrity when appropriate. Consider different ways of assessing learning that reward integrity.


Resources


References

  • 1 Eaton, S. E. & Edion, R. I. (2018). Strengthening the research agenda of educational integrity in Canada: A review of the research and call to action. International Journal of Educational Integrity, 14(5), 1-21.
  • 2 Korn, L. & Davidovitch, N. (2016). The profile of academic offenders: Features of students who admit to academic dishonesty. Medical Science Monitor: International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research.
  • 3 Löfström, E., Trotman, T., Furnari, M. & Shephard, K. (2015). Who teaches academic integrity and how do they do it? Higher Education, 69(3), 435-448.