Alternative Assessment Strategies in Sakai: Part 1

By: Wilma Hodges, Ed.D.


High stakes exams are often used to assess student learning. However, these types of assessments raise a host of other questions, such as concerns over test security, academic integrity, system performance, and more. This is even more true in online learning where learners are physically removed from a controlled test-taking environment. And now, with the pandemic forcing adoption of online learning at unprecedented rates, the topic of assessment is even more critical than ever.


Most educators agree that incorporating alternative assessment strategies into their teaching can provide a valuable counterbalance to high stakes exams. Alternative assessment, sometimes called authentic or performance-based assessment, is usually focused on giving students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a more contextually relevant way. Alternative approaches are often characterized by the use of real-world scenarios, problem-solving, or collaborative work. Rather than simply testing students’ ability to correctly recall information, alternative assessment allows students to demonstrate that they understand and can synthesize information.


In a recent blog article, Saga Briggs describes several alternatives to high stakes testing. If you are looking for inspiration on how to implement some of these strategies in Sakai - look no further! Here are just a few ways you can leverage Sakai tools to incorporate alternative assessment strategies.


Part 1: Frequent, Low-Stakes Testing

Create short, focused quizzes with unlimited attempts in the Tests & Quizzes tool.


Having students take short, focused, low-stakes assessments at multiple points throughout the course provides information that you can’t really get from a traditional midterm or final exam. Some of the benefits of this approach include:

  • If students are taking short, low-stakes quizzes along the way, they are less likely to “cram for the big test” or experience test anxiety when faced with a final, grade-defining, cumulative exam.

  • Collecting multiple attempts from students gives you data about student interaction with the content over time, rather than relying on a single point in the term, or a single grade, to determine performance.

  • The pattern of student activity contains meaningful insights into their overall learning experience. For example, the number and time stamps of submissions can provide information about when and how often students are working through the content. This is particularly helpful in online environments where students need to participate regularly and stay engaged.

  • Scores on multiple attempts may indicate where students have a solid understanding of the material, and where they are having trouble. If students repeatedly score poorly or get “stuck” on a particular item, they may need some additional help with that part of the course.


You can use the Sakai Tests & Quizzes tool to create these types of quizzes. Ideally, the quizzes should be quick (e.g. one or two questions only), and you should create a lot of them - at least one per key concept. These quiz links can be added to your Lessons content pages at the end of each section or unit of instruction (i.e. at the end of each page, topic, module, etc.). Placing them at the end of each section of content provides an opportunity for review and reflection.


Setting up these quizzes with unlimited attempts allows students to take them as many times as needed to master the content. You can opt to make these assessments either graded items which contribute to an overall course grade, or ungraded “self checks,” intended purely for students to practice. And, if you include correct/incorrect answer feedback when authoring questions, you can use this feedback to direct students to additional resources to help them understand difficult concepts.


The Sakai Tests & Quizzes tool will keep a record of the number of attempts, submission dates, answers selected in each attempt, and the assessment score, regardless of whether or not the quiz score goes into the gradebook. Instructors can use the “User Activity Report” in Tests & Quizzes to view these details for each student. Multiple attempts may even be exported for the whole class on a per-assessment basis if desired.


Enable on-demand assessment and self-paced learning via conditional release in Lessons


Making content available based on conditional release lets students move at their own pace through the course, and provides a more personalized, on-demand experience for learners. Students are presented with assessments based on their progress through the material, rather than on a pre-defined schedule set for everyone in the class. Moreover, student quiz submissions serve as an indication of their overall progress through the course. You can tell how much of the material they have covered just by looking at which assessments have been completed.


Once you have created your collection of short, focused quizzes, as described in the section above, you can also use them as a way for students to demonstrate mastery of a concept before moving to the next topic. For example, in Lessons you can require that students attain a particular score on the current topic’s quiz before the next module of instruction becomes available.


To be continued in Part 2: Games and Interactive Activities.


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