Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology

Assessments for Virtual Instruction

Instructional Continuity

An array of events can disrupt faculty’s ability to teach courses via on-campus, in-class sessions. Cal Poly is committed to providing students the opportunity to complete courses despite disruptions. Steadily advancing communication and instructional technologies have greatly enhanced faculty’s ability to provide quality virtual learning experiences.With  planning, training on selected user-friendly technologies, and mentoring on effective instruction, faculty can continue instruction through many forms of instructional disruption.


Final Assessments

The guide below provides alternatives to in-person final exams. Any time there is a disruption to faculty's ability to conduct on-campus, in-class final exams, it is essential that faculty remain flexible and sensitive to student needs and concerns. Under no circumstance should students be penalized, or forced to take an incomplete or grade reduction if an on-site final is canceled. If a faculty decides to cancel their final, students should still be given the option of completing an online final or having some other kind of final evaluation as it may impact their course grade significantly. 

PolyLearn FAQ
Canvas FAQ

Options for Virtual Assessments

Several options exist for alternatives that may be suitable substitutes for planned in-class final assessment (e.g., final exams, presentations, etc.). Alternatives may involve minor or major adjustments in the type of assessments that are possible.

As faculty consider alternatives, it's important to select an alternative that remains aligned with the learning activities that students experienced during the quarter. For example, if student work was dominated by problem-solving, a final assessment consisting of solving appropriately complex problems would reflect good alignment. If students' learning experiences were dominated by taking lecture notes and completing multiple-choice questions on midterms, a final assessment that consisted of creating a complex proposal for a novel project may reflect poor alignment.

The following are suggestions to prompt creative thinking about what may be possible alternatives to in-class assessments.


Final exams planned for in-class completion can be offered for out-of-class completion. For many types of exams, the quiz tool in the LMS (both Canvas and PolyLearn) provides instructors the capability to select question types (multiple choice, fill in, short answer, etc.), set correct answers for automatic test scoring, set time constraints for test responses (e.g., 45 minutes to complete), and set the date and time for opening/closing (e.g., Exam to open on Tuesday at 9 am and close Wednesday at 9 am). You can read more about specific Canvas and PolyLearn tools below.

Of course, exams in PolyLearn and Canvas should be offered with the understanding that they will not be proctored. Non-proctored exams mean that:

  • They are effectively "open book; open notes."
  • The opportunity may exist for students to collaborate on their responses.

For some exam designs, these could be considered as contributing to violations of academic integrity (i.e., "cheating") and undermine the validity of the assessment. This is most likely when the assessments are dominated by questions addressing lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (i.e., Remembering, Comprehending). Questions tend to take the form of the more basic forms of multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, etc.

It is also possible to design effective and appropriate exams that are better suited to assessments that are untimed, open book/open note, and may allow student collaboration. These exams tend to be dominated by questions assessing higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (e.g., Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating). Questions tend to take the form of short answer responses or longer responses solving complex problems, generating recommendations for specific scenarios, analysis of case studies, evaluating competing options, creating an artifact applying principles, etc. This approach would entail creating the revised exam and establishing a procedure for distribution and collection (e.g., via the LMS, via email, etc.).

Each instructor can decide, as with all assessments, what constitutes an appropriate measure of students' knowledge and/or abilities. Alternative assessments should be aligned with the appropriate Bloom's Taxonomy level(s) for the course learning activities and prior assessments. Instructors should provide students with clear guidelines for appropriate -- and inappropriate -- behaviors when completing the exams so they understand the specific expectations for what is considered a violation of academic integrity and what is acceptable.


For courses with assessments involving presentations or speeches (individual or group), virtual alternatives to in-class presentations are available. Virtual forms differ in potentially important ways (e.g., a virtual audience instead of the immediacy of a face-to-face audience). Instructors can determine how these differences may change expectations and evaluation when moving to a virtual mode.

The recommended technology for these at Cal Poly is Zoom, a multi-functional audio/video platform that allows for presenter screen sharing so that visuals can complement "talking heads." Cal Poly has contracted with Zoom to provide a campus account for the entire campus (faculty, students and staff) to use. To learn more about Zoom, how to use it, and its capability visit Streaming Live or Recording Classes in Zoom.

In brief, Zoom offers the following capabilities, which make it a powerful tool for instructors for many instructional activities and assessments:

  • videoconferencing that can accommodate from 2-200 participants
  • screen-sharing capabilities for all participants
  • a text chat channel that runs parallel to a video conference session as a concurrent back channel for participants to post questions, comments, links to resources, etc.
  • recording capability for all sessions
  • auto-captioning for recorded videos for improved accessibility

The virtual presentations can be synchronous (real-time delivery) or asynchronous (recorded and submitted) as Zoom supports both. Thus, individual students' speeches or presentations can be scheduled for real-time delivery or recorded and submitted to the instructor or the entire class (at the instructor's option). The same is true for group presentations: real-time delivery, or recorded and submitted.

Click here to learn about recording, captioning, and sharing Zoom sessions.

Flipgrid is another excellent option for recording student work through video responses. Only the educator needs to create an account and then share it with all students through any browser. If you are using Canvas, Flipgrid has full integration with Canvas as a plugin. You can open each student's post in the Speedgrader and apply a grade directly. If the assignment calls for collaboration or discussion, students can respond via video to one another. To learn more about Flipgrid, we recommend The Educator's Guide to Flipgrid.

Additional Resources for Alternative Final Assessments

Promoting Academic Integrity

"How Do I Promote Academic Honesty in an Online Environment"

(From the CSUN website)

When you give students tests online on Canvas, there is no way to ensure that they will not copy, print or take photos of the exam. However, there are some strategies you can take to minimize the risk of academic dishonesty. Below are some strategies to promote academic honesty in an online environment.

  • Create quizzes that encourage knowledge transfer (as opposed to simple recall), and consider using higher-order questions. Open-ended, analytical, or problem-solving questions are harder to copy than mechanical and discrete questions.
  • Use an honor statement. Use text similar to the below in the directions for your online quiz or test:

"You may use your books and notes while taking the test but you must work on your own. Do not share your answers or discuss with anyone, even after completing the test. You will have 60 minutes to complete the test up until the deadline of Tuesday at 11:55 PM. All tests will be automatically submitted at 11:55 PM regardless of how much time the timer says because that is the final deadline. Please read the statement below carefully before beginning the test: 'By selecting Attempt quiz now, I acknowledge that I am the assigned student taking the quiz and the work is entirely my own.'"

  • Shuffling the options within questions (e.g., multiple-choice options). However, for shuffling within questions, if you have any “all of the above,” “none of the above,” or “A and C are correct” kind of options and enable this setting, it is recommended that those questions be rewritten to say “all of these options,” “none of these options,” or something along these lines.

  • Include a time limit for completing the quiz, as this reduces the amount of time that students have to be fact-checking or looking for the answers (suggest T/F 30-45 sec, ABCD 60-90 sec).
  • Consider not selecting the option to release scores or answers until after the test closes. This way someone who finished the test first cannot pass the answers along to classmates who have yet to take the test.
  • Build a large pool of questions and randomizing the questions pulled from your question bank. The larger the question bank, the more chances that students will get entirely different sets of questions.
  • Use Canvas Statistics during exams to determine if students are using Canvas to cheat. 

Assessment Tools in Canvas and PolyLearn

For additional support on these tools visit PolyLearn Support or Canvas Support

Canvas Assessment Tools

Canvas provides a variety of assessment tools for your use, depending on your course goals and outcomes:

  • Quizzes: Quizzes and New Quizzes can be used to create surveys for student feedback, or low-stakes formative quizzes to help students self-assess what they have just read or reviewed. Quizzes can allow multiple attempts to help students review important concepts. Quizzes provide a variety of question types, as well as options for immediate feedback on individual questions.
  • Discussion: Discussions allows instructors to set up an area for organized course-related discussions. Students are able to create posts as well as respond to posts from other students. The instructor acts as a moderator, and the discussion can be graded or non-graded. The Speedgrader is an efficient means to view all posts and replies from individual students in graded discussions.
  • Assignments: Assignments allows instructors to collect student work and provide grades and feedback. This tool can be used for either formative or summative assessment. Rubrics are available in the Assignment. These are scoring tools that explicitly describe performance expectations for an assignment, and can be aligned with course learning outcomes. 
  • Peer Review Assignments: Peer Review Assignment. When creating an assignment, you can require students to complete a peer review of another student's work. For peer reviews, you can manually assign peer reviews or choose to have Canvas automatically assign peer reviews for you. You can also choose to allow students to see other students' names in peer reviews or make them anonymous. When anonymous peer reviews are enabled, instructors and TAs can still view the names of student reviewers in SpeedGrader and in the student submission page. However, if anonymous grading is enabled in SpeedGrader, the names of both students will be hidden in SpeedGrader but not in the student submission page.

PolyLearn Assessment Tools

PolyLearn provides a variety of assessment tools for your use, depending on your course goals and outcomes:

  • Quizzes: The PolyLearn Quiz tool provides students with a self-graded quiz on what they have just read or reviewed, particularly if it is a quiz they can take multiple times for a low-stakes score, allows students to self-assess and review important concepts. Options for immediate feedback on individual questions.
  • Lessons: The Lesson tool allows instructors to create an embedded quiz or question set within the context of course content. You may allow students to continue through their lesson regardless of the score, or you can force students to correct their understanding of materials as the lesson progresses.
  • Questionnaire: The Questionnaire is a survey tool that allows teachers to create a wide range of questions to get student feedback, e.g., on a course or activities. The purpose is to gather data, rather than assess learning. 
  • Discussion Forum: The Discussion Forum tool allows instructors to set up an area for organized course-related discussions. Students are able to create posts as well as respond to posts from other students. The instructor acts as a moderator.
  • Question and Answer Forum: Instructors can create a discussion forum for the purpose of clarifying instruction for students. Students can post questions they have about course-related activities, and the instructor, or other students, can answer the questions. Everyone has access to the questions and answers, so everyone benefits.
  • Assignment: The Assignment tool allows instructors to collect student work and provide grades and feedback. This tool can be used for either formative or summative assessment. Rubrics are available in the "Advanced Grading" option of the Assignment. These are scoring tools that explicitly describe performance expectations for an assignment.
  • Wiki: The Wiki tool allows instructors to set up pages that are editable by anyone and allows students to collaborate with one another (as well as the instructor) for learning. Pages can be added to the Wiki to organize and can be commented on to offer suggestions, feedback, etc. The instructor can see all the activity that occurs in the Wiki.

Extra Time and Attempts for Students with Disabilities

Canvas and PolyLearn both provide options to provide individual students with extra time or attempts on quizzes, for students with disabilities who need accommodations:

In PolyLearn:

In Canvas:

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