Adjusting to the Pandemic: Alternate Assessments (CTL Report #2)

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell from Pexels

Here, I will report on what I’ve learned about giving students alternative assignments during the plague apocalypse.

This has definitely been a challenging time for everyone, as we all try to adjust to the changes and worries that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought. UNC Charlotte quickly adapted, with courses going entirely online the week of April 16th.

But not everyone was prepared for these changes. How could we have been? Everything was so unexpected.

The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNCC has been working really hard in helping everyone adjust to these changes. They replaced all of the old workshops with new ones to teach Professors how to use technologies such as WebEx and Canvas. They also held extra sessions for discussions on how to move classes online and have continued providing additional workshops throughout the rest of the semester.

I attended one of these workshops titled #KeepTeaching: End-of-Semester Alternate Assessments and Projects. This workshop focused on ways to give students different types of assessments and projects online as opposed to our traditional, in-person classes. A lot of good advice was given.

One recommendation especially stood out to me, and that was basically to keep the students’ mental health and well-being in mind (especially with everything going on in the world right now). In one of my earlier meetings this month, an instructor asked about using a lock-down browser for students’ exams. She thought it was best so that students could not cheat; however, many were complaining and having difficulties setting it up. Another professor then pointed out that it might be best to just risk not using it to spare students the additional stress during this already difficult time.

A slide from the workshop explaining that proctored exams may not always be the way to go (especially with everyone already stressing out given the fact that the whole world is falling apart).

Again, this is something that I appreciated.

As instructors (or teaching assistants, since I’m not quite at that level yet!), we want students to learn and do well in the course. But rather than focusing so much on the technologies, what else is important?

Many faculty members are so preoccupied with how to set up an online class that it’s as if the big, important questions have gone missing. We must also model for students how and what to prioritize.

What Do We Need to Teach Now? by Deborah J. Cohan

I loved this article, What Do We Need to Teach Now, that Dr. Maher shared with us in our Teaching Seminar course. With all the current uncertainty and fear, the author reminds us of our shared humanity and the importance of taking care as we continue to move forward. She asks: “What do we think our students need and want right now? What do we as educators most need and want right now?” I think it is essential to think about these questions, especially now. We must reflect on who we want to be as teachers, and who we want to be for our students.

Worldwide health is too precarious, the world feels too uncertain and all that dis/ease feels frighteningly loud and overwhelming. I need and want what I instinctively believe my students need and want: reassuring leadership, humor, quiet and rest, joy and beauty, a departure from the mania, and a release to be still.

What Do We Need to Teach Now? by Deborah J. Cohan

So, what can we do? How can we both teach and assess our students in ways that benefit them, while also being understanding of current events?

This workshop described some teaching methods with these goals in mind.

One central idea was to break down extensive assessments into smaller pieces. For example, instead of having one exam at the end of the semester, have a few shorter tests spread out. This also relates strongly to the idea of scaffolding and can be used as a general teaching process (i.e., is not limited to just online courses).

Another slide from the workshop. This one describes a method of breaking down large assessments (i.e., exams or projects) into smaller pieces.

Scaffolding is the process of providing learners with material in smaller, more manageable steps. It is also noted that through scaffolding, the learner’s level of frustration could be reduced. That is, essentially, what the methods discussed in this workshop were aiming to do.


“Alternatives to Traditional Exams and Papers.” Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning,

“Inside Higher Ed.” Beyond Focusing on Educational Delivery Models, Faculty Should Prioritize the Essential Truths They Want Students to Learn (Opinion),

Mcleod, Saul. “What Is the Zone of Proximal Development?” Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding | Simply Psychology,

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