Spotlight on Alternative Assessment Methods: Assessment and feedback in the context of hybrid learning environments

Photo credit: Clay Banks Unsplash CC0

In this ‘Spotlight on Alternative Assessment Methods’ post, Velda McCune, Deputy Director of the Institute for Academic Development, provides several guiding principles and resources for developing hybrid assessment practices in the fall semester…

For the first semester of next academic year, the University will develop a hybrid model for learning that is:

distinctive because it does not assume either a fundamentally on-campus or fundamentally online model, but is designed for easy student transition between the two; it does not separate online and on-campus cohorts but focuses on bringing them together. (i)

Some cohorts of students may be working asynchronously in different time zones whereas for others synchronous learning may be possible. Student may shift cohorts due to changing restrictions relating to covid-19 or other challenges. Fortunately, we already had lots of fantastic online programmes before this current crisis, so we are starting from an excellent place to create new hybrid assessment practice.

There are some general principles that apply to most assessments that can work well to inform us as we develop hybrid provision. Here are a few starters:

  1. New assessment practices of any kind involves some trial and error. So don’t worry if it doesn’t go smoothly at first.
  2. If in doubt, start with the intended learning outcomes from your course and find a simple way to assess those. Perhaps some programme learning outcomes are assessed more than once just now and you could cut back the summative assessments in some courses?
  3. Building community and connection is always important for learning and student retention but matters even more in hybrid learning environments, where students may tend to polarise. Assessment practices that allow students in different cohorts to collaborate or support one another are ideal for community building. This could be shared projects, a shared blog, peer feedback or many other possibilities. Remember to allow staff time to support students as they learn these ways of working and to mediate any tensions.
  4. Students’ perceptions of how they can do well in assessments are one of the strongest drivers of how they go about learning (Thomson and Lawson, 2018). So it’s worth putting plenty of thought into whether your assessment is driving the kind of learning you want and into making sure that your students’ perceptions of your assessment are as you expected. It’s quite common for students to have misconceptions about what is wanted (Sadler, 2010).
  5. Dialogue between students and teachers (and between students) about what makes for good academic work is crucial (Nicol, 2010; Anderson and McCune, 2013). This works just as well online as face-to-face and can be done synchronously or asynchronously. Although people can worry about using exemplars to shape these discussions, exemplars are really useful. If at all possible, give your students several different exemplars of varying quality of how an assessment might be done (Tai et al., 2018). These can provide a fantastic starting point for dialogue and group exercises. This can easily be done in asynchronous discussion between local and distant cohorts.
  6. Assessment can be a great source of anxiety for students, especially when it’s something they are unfamiliar with, so it’s really important to give them opportunities to practice new assessment forms and to get feedback before that form of assessment becomes high-stakes.
  7. ‘Authentic’ assessments set students up well to use their learning in their future lives (Villaroel et al., 2018). Authentic assessments deal with complex, messy, real-world problems and often have students working in groups to come up with potential solutions. You are looking for safe opportunities for students to try out the thinking and working practices used by experts in your area and to figure out what practices make sense for them in that context (Fawns and O’Shea, 2019).
  8. Remember to design in inclusion up front. That might be something as simple as avoiding intended learning outcomes that are not necessary and that might exclude some students. Or offering some choice of assessment topic and form can be really helpful for inclusion. Thinking more deeply, does your assessment value the ways of knowing and backgrounds of all of your students?
  9. When it comes to online assessment, try to avoid replicating what you’ve done face-to-face and instead think about the things that can be done especially well online. Could your students contribute to Wikipedia together. Or blogging lends itself really well to the kinds of iterative writing and feedback that enhance student engagement and deep learning (Christie and Morris, 2019). Other fascinating possibilities include multi-modal assessments and simulations. Online learning lends itself well to automating some aspects of assessment to free staff time for the work that really needs expert input. If you have factual knowledge or key concepts that are especially important for your students, could you design online quizzes that test these and give automated feedback about why answers are right or wrong? The University has tools for this.
  10. Co-creation between students and teachers is really valuable for the best learning experiences (Bovill, 2019) and online learning lends itself really well to collaborative co-creation of assessed work between students and with others in the wider world.

In terms of the practicalities, Board of Studies now have the ability to enable good changes to be made quickly and effortlessly.

Whatever you are working on for your assessment and other teaching practices next semester there’s lots of support available. Here are some useful resources:

There will be future blog posts on Teaching Matters about specific topics such as open-book and online exams and assessments in particularly tricky settings for lockdown such as labs or studios.

(i) This quote is from Hybrid Teaching for Academic Year 2020-21.


With huge thanks to Tim Fawns, Tina Harrison, Hazel Christie, Celeste McLaughlin and Jon Turner for providing comments, texts and references to help me develop this post.


Anderson, C. and McCune, V. (2013). Fostering meaning: fostering community. Higher Education, 66, 283-296.

Bovill C. (2019). Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education. Higher Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-019-00453-w.

Christie, H. and Morris, N.J. (2019). Using assessed blogs to enhance student engagement.Teaching in Higher Education 

Fawns T. and O’Shea C. (2019). Evaluative judgement of working practices: reconfiguring assessment to support student adaptability and agency across complex settings. Italian Journal of Educational Technology 27(1): 5–18. 

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5): 501–517. DOI: 10.1080/02602931003786559.

Sadler, D. R.  (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35(5): 535–550. DOI: 10.1080/02602930903541015.

Tai J., Ajjawi R., Boud D., et al. (2018). Developing evaluative judgement: enabling students to make decisions about the quality of work. Higher Education 76(3). Higher Education: 467–481. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-017-0220-3.

Thomson, T.  and Lawson, R. (2018). Strategies for fostering the development of evaluative judgement in David Boud, Rola Ajjawi, Phillip Dawson, Joanna Tai (eds) Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education, pp. 136-144.

Villarroel V., Bloxham S., Bruna D., Bruna, C. and Herrera-Seda, C. (2018). Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 43(5) 840-854. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2017.1412396.

Velda McCune

Velda McCune is Deputy Director of the IAD and Head of the Learning and Teaching Team. She has oversight of the continuing professional development opportunities which the IAD offers for staff involved in teaching and supporting student learning. An important focus of her work is collaborating with colleagues in Schools and Colleges to take forward research and scholarship relating to teaching and learning in Higher Education.

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