Exams, Quizzes, and Assessments

Offering exams and assessments in an online environment presents different opportunities and considerations. Learn tips, best practices, and alternative strategies to promote learning and maintain the spirit and values of the College of Engineering Honor Code.

Online Assessment Strategies

Within online courses, assessments can provide a wide range of information to track learner progress along the way as well as to evaluate a learner’s final mastery of content. When teaching in person many knowledge checks occur naturally within the regular course meeting times and interactions. Teaching online requires planning ahead for these moments and aligning the best methods to identify how well learners are comprehending in order to guide them back on track. There are many different ways to create these kinds of assessments.

Develop Your Online Assessment Strategy

Consider the purpose of your assessments and the affordances of technology, especially delivery online. When developing your assessment strategy, address the following six criteria:

  • Objective Alignment: Confirm your assessments best align with the overall learning objectives.
  • Assessment Type: Construct both formative or summative assessments.
  • Delivery Mode: Decide which assessments will be synchronous or asynchronous.
  • Engagement & Interactivity: Incorporate interactive assessments such as discussion boards with peers and group assignments to promote course engagement. 
  • Learner Checks: Create multiple points early on to gauge learners’ levels of understanding to clarify points of confusion sooner and redirect learners.
  • Supporting Academic Integrity: Incorporate best practices to promote alignment with the CoE Honor Code.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments (or assessments for learning) may happen organically in residence, where faculty regularly ask questions to gauge understanding or work through problems synchronously with students. Within online learning—especially asynchronous online learning—an intentional strategy is needed for frequent formative assessment and feedback. This helps faculty assess and address gaps in understanding before getting into deeper concepts. Providing detailed and timely feedback to students is a key part of formative assessment in order to address issues and revisit missed concepts. 

Examples of no or low stakes formative assessments are:

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments (or assessments of learning) evaluate students’ learning and give the student an opportunity to demonstrate that understanding, such as to show employers or to take to the next course. 

Examples of graded formative assessments are:

  • Exams
  • Projects
  • Presentations
  • Portfolios

Tips for Designing Assessments

Here are some tips to promote student learning in the remote environment and maintain the spirit and values of the College of Engineering Honor Code. 

Be Clear About Assessment Details and Objectives

  • Provide specific and descriptive criteria for the evaluation of learners’ work that is tied to course learning objectives and grading policies.
  • Write online activities and assignments with explicit instructions for how to participate, when responses or submissions are expected and in what form (e.g., pdf, image, video), along with how the activities are assessed.

Provide Practice Assignments and Learner Checks

  • Use scenario-based multiple-choice prompts, where possible, to provide context and application to reinforce a key course concept. Note: Make sure the scenario is realistic and as simple as possible.
  • Give feedback to explain the correct answer as well as why some answers are incorrect to clarify common misconceptions (See Question 1 in Practice Examples File).
  • Provide detailed step-by-step solutions where calculations or software are involved including software steps and screenshots to help learners better understand the approach (See Question 2 in Practice Examples File).
  • Include questions that require connections to larger concepts and objectives versus only definition understanding or numerical calculator (See Question 3 in Practice Examples File).
  • Advanced: Include questions that link topics together from multiple lectures. These low stakes connections help prepare students for advanced exam questions (See Question 4 in Practice Examples File).
    • Alternatively, for a given scenario, create multiple questions to link topics (e.g., use a mini-case study with multiple questions for different analyses and conclusions).

Encourage Demonstration of Knowledge

  • Use learning activities and assessments to stimulate learner interactions with the course content.
  • For exams and quizzes, consider an open book/open note approach.
  • Design questions such that they require reflection, application, citation of research, or demonstrated understanding beyond textbook concepts or rote memorization.
  • Use methods that require learners to demonstrate their work, such as an uploaded video explanation or handwritten answers.
  • Incorporate synchronous review sessions with the capability to accommodate different time zones if necessary. 
  • Incorporate alternative assessment strategies to assess learning comprehension by asking learners to explain the process used to answer a question, apply learning to a personal experience, videotape their solution, incorporate a team-based project involving a virtual team, etc.

Consider Exam Setup and Delivery

  • Incorporate randomized questions from question banks/groups. To learn more, view this presentation on using Canvas tools to support academic integrity.
  • Control release of student grades for assignments such that all students get their grades at the same time.
  • Make exam files only accessible during the test time window.
  • Add an Honor Code statement to all assessments with submissions.

Online Quizzes & Exams

Watch tutorials and access resources covering options, tips, and best practices for offering online quizzes and exams.

Training Tutorials

Exams and assessments are a large part of how we measure learner success. For courses with online learners, several options are available for offering quizzes and exams. The following videos will guide you through these options and associated processes.

Training: Offering Quizzes & Exams Remotely

In this 50-minute training session, Pat Hammett, PhD covers a range of options and best practices for offering assessments remotely, including:

  • Options for offering remote exams
  • Past experiences offering remote exams
  • Using Canvas for enhanced online exams
  • Tips for grading online submissions using Canvas

Tutorial: Offering Quizzes & Exams Remotely

For a shorter tutorial on offering assessments remotely. (30 minutes)

Tutorial: Creating Canvas Quizzes/Exams with the Upload File Option

In this ~5-minute tutorial, an instructional designer guides you through the process for creating quizzes/exams in Canvas, including:

  • How to create a Canvas Quiz
  • How to create a quiz question using file upload
  • How to publish the quiz

Recommendations & Resources

Alternative Assessments

Exams aren’t the only way to evaluate learner success. Here are examples of alternative assessment strategies that require original thought, reflection and application of concepts.


Blogs offer a unique, interactive method of assessing student progress and retention. Require learners to write and publish regular posts on a concept or topic and encourage peers to provide feedback in the comments section of the posts.

Learner Resource:
Blogger – Available to all learners and instructors under the U-M Google Suite license.

Annotated Bibliography

Ask learners to write descriptions about the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited around a particular topic, discipline, method, or innovation.

Learner Resource:
Annotated Bibliography Samples (Purdue Online Writing Lab)

Video Presentation

To accommodate multiple time zones, have learners record and upload video presentations on an assigned course topic.

Learner Resource:
How to Submit a Canvas Video Assignment


Task learners with interviewing a practitioner, researcher, or someone from another discipline to identify how certain technology, engineering practices, etc. are being used, and to reflect on gaps, user behavior, areas for improvement or future research.

Concept Application

Design an assessment that requires learners to apply existing concepts to a new discipline or audience, and consider how it would need to be adapted to meet new needs, or opportunities that could arise.

User Guide

Encourage applied thinking by asking learners to create a guide explaining a concept, technology, technique to someone outside the discipline.

Assignment and Rubric

Flip the script by asking learners to design an assignment and rubric aimed at assessing someone’s understanding of a specific concept, technology, or lab technique. Ask learners to clearly define how they will know if the assignment-taker has mastered the concept, demonstrated competency, or needs improvement.

Review Guidelines and Quality Standards

Consider Exam Setup and Delivery

  • Incorporate randomized questions from question banks/groups.
  • Control release of learner grades for assignments such that all learners get their grades at the same time.
  • Make exam files only accessible during the test time window.
  • Add an Honor Code statement to all assessments with submissions.
  • To learn more about using Canvas tools to support academic integrity, download or view this presentation.

Scale Online Exams in High-Enrollment Courses

  • Prescribe a clear format, rubric, points value, and structure, so the exam can be graded quickly and across multiple graders.
  • Provide an easy place within your course site/LMS to post and retrieve the exam.
  • Utilize question banks.
  • Assess groups of learners in waves.

Design Quiz or Exam in an Open Note/Open Book Format

  • Without proctors, one may expect some students to use their notes. Consider acknowledging this limitation and allowing access to notes for everybody.
  • Clearly articulate what is considered a “note” or an appropriate resource to use.
  • Clearly articulate prohibited resources (e.g. soliciting help online).

Take Timing into Consideration

  • Consider using an online platform to administer and time the exam.
  • Limit the time allotted for students to take an exam to at most 2 hours.
  • Moderate exam length such that most students can comfortably finish.

Accommodate Learners in Multiple Time Zones

  • Establish a time that is reasonable for all time zones represented in your class, or offer exams at multiple times (especially if your class includes international students).
  • Be aware that multiple exam times might require multiple exam versions or other mitigation strategies.

Have a Contingency Plan for Technical Issues

  • To help reduce stress, provide students with contact information (e.g. phone number) in the event that there are technical or other issues during the exam.
  • Plan for alternative methods of submitting exams.

Process Map

Mapping out processes can be an effective way for learners to demonstrate competency or use of a particular skill/concept in a specific setting.

Learner Resource:
Process Mapping (LucidChart)

Solution to a Current Event

Ask learners to apply a concept from the course to address a current event or a gap/problem that impacts people daily, including describing how to implement, distribute, or develop solutions.

Innovative Solution

Design an assignment such that learners must demonstrate a “hack” that makes a technique, strategy, technology, or engineering solution more accessible to a wider audience, perhaps by price point.

Service to the Greater Good

Encourage system thinking by requiring learners to describe or demonstrate how a particular technology or engineering system serves a greater good or has a wider impact.

Assignments & Grading

In an online learning environment, assignments offer a great way to keep learners engaged, check their progress, and encourage peer collaboration. As you plan your course, consider the tips and recommendations below.

Homework, Projects, and Presentations

Assignments/Homework Submission

For courses with online learners, it is important to post assignments in your course learning management system and provide learners with explicit instructions about how to title the assignments and where to submit them. Electronic submission may involve either uploading the document in an easily-opened format (.doc, .pdf, etc.) or scanning hand-written work.

  • Tutorial: Scanning Documents to PDF with iPhone

    In this 3-minute video, an instructional designer shows you how to scan documents to PDF using an iPhone.
  • Tutorial: Scanning Documents to PDF with Android

    In this 2-minute video, an instructional designer shows you how to scan documents to PDF using an Android phone.

Group Work and Learner Presentations

To accommodate time zone differences, consider designing group work that requires asynchronous collaboration. You may also consider breaking up learners based on time zone and availability. To promote collaboration, provide groups with private discussion areas within Canvas and offer guidance on how to work collaboratively online. Online learners can present material by sending in a PowerPoint with audio files or connecting synchronously through videoconferencing (Zoom). When evaluating, provide individual and group grades.

Projects and Reports

When assigning reports, consider breaking your paper up into smaller “chunks” with intermediate deadlines, and use rubrics to set clear expectations. Consider using peer feedback for early report drafts. If grading gets overwhelming, consider audio feedback or 1:1 meetings.


Discussion boards like the Canvas “Discussions” tool or Piazza offer a great way to answer learner questions and stimulate peer-to-peer interaction. It is important to establish clear guidelines if you intend to evaluate discussion board postings as part of the grade.

Capstone Projects

Capstone projects provide learners the opportunity to gain real-world experience as part of their course grade. Contact [email protected] for more information.


Grading Tablets

Nexus recommends the use of tablets for grading coursework electronically. The instructional team or graders must supply their own laptop to use the tablet for grading. Markup software is also required; Nexus recommends Adobe Acrobat Pro, which is available to instructors at no cost through ITS as part of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Canvas Speedgrader

Canvas’ SpeedGrader feature makes it easy to evaluate assignments and provide timely written, audio, and video feedback. To learn more about using SpeedGrader, click here.


Gradescope is a suite of tools designed to accommodate a common grading workflow. Learners scan and upload their homework or exams, and the instructional team creates a living rubric that allows for speedy grading of large courses. The software allows learners to receive faster and more detailed feedback on their work, and instructors can see detailed assignment and question analytics. Visit our Gradescope page for more information and to get access.


Rubrics provide clear guidelines for how submissions will be graded, and are often seen as more objective to learners. In addition, rubrics offer a more systemic approach to grading/feedback and consistency across graders. Both Canvas and GradeScope offer convenient rubric functionality

Further Reading:

Supporting Academic Integrity

The Engineering Honor Code has been in place at the University for more than 100 years. This page offers advice, strategies, and resources for supporting academic integrity in an online environment. For questions or concerns about an Honor Code case, contact the Honor Council Administrator at [email protected]. The Office of Retention & Academic Support Services website also offers resources and best practices for instructors.

Should You Be Concerned About Increased Cheating in an Online Environment?

When learners are separated from one another, there is a perception that individuals will engage in deceptive behavior. This is a topic that has been explored among education researchers in an effort to ensure an academic environment that is rooted in academic integrity. Numerous studies suggest that not only were the number of violations less than originally thought, but were fewer in frequency to their in-class counterparts. Still, the increase in online learning across the College is shifting views of cheating and instructors are naturally thinking more about what it really means to test learners’ knowledge and to uphold the Engineering Honor Code.

Tips for Supporting Academic Integrity

The Honor Code applies in all academic settings and should be followed. All learners are presumed to be honorable and trustworthy people. “The standards for personal integrity demanded by the Honor Code are a reflection of the standards of conduct expected of engineers,” the Honor Code reads. “These standards allow fairness among learners to ensure that no unfair advantage is gained and an equal learning opportunity is given to all learners.” To promote academic integrity and maintain the spirit and values of the Honor Code, consider the following.


Provide Guidelines and Request Acknowledgement of the Honor Code

Every course should have a written honor policy describing the nature of allowed and disallowed collaboration within the course. To provide learners with reinforcement, consider including the relevant honor policy in every assignment and requiring learners to affirm. To maintain academic integrity, online exams must be designed and administered such that both learners and instructors have confidence in the testing process. Learners should not be tempted to violate the Honor Code out of fear they will be disadvantaged if they do not.

Consider Additional Policy Statements

In addition to an Honor Code statement, consider including policy statements in your course materials on cheat checking, the use of third-party websites and resources, sharing work, checking answers and rules for collaboration. You may also want to provide examples of what would be considered a violation of the Honor Code.

Develop Your Remote Assessment Strategy

Click here to learn how to develop an effective remote assessment strategy that promotes academic integrity. 


Establish a Caring Classroom Environment

From the outset, emphasize learning as the primary goal, promote a growth mindset to your learners (“failure is part of learning”), and reiterate that grades are not indicative of who they are as people.

Be Transparent About Norms

In your course syllabus and throughout the term, clarify the rules for collaboration, stress the rules and consequences for sharing individual assignments, and encourage learners to check with you before using an outside resource. You may even consider allowing learners to participate in in-class discussions to define cheating. Inform learners that course material should not be posted publicly without instructor permission and that course material is provided for the learners within the class only.

Reduce the Motivation or Pressure for Cheating

Communicate cheating mitigation strategies to learners, and consider necessary modifications to grading policies such that honest learners aren’t penalized by potential widespread cheating.

Reiterate Trust

Trust is the cornerstone of the CoE Honor Code, including the fact that examinations are not proctored. By reiterating this trust, you can reduce anxiety among your learners and appeal to their professionalism and sense of social obligation.


Some examples of typical violations include:

  • Inappropriate collaboration: Giving or receiving help outside of an approved pre-registered partnership as defined by course policies, or taking another learner’s work with or without their permission in conflict with collaboration policies of a course.
  • Inappropriate use of resources or seeking an unfair advantage: Utilizing university property or services outside of their intended use; utilizing tools or technology to gain an unfair advantage outside of approved resources for a class. 
  • Copying and plagiarism: Stealing or taking the work of another learner without their explicit permission, submitting work that is not the original thoughts or ideas of a learner without attributing its origins, or turning in the work of others.

Contact the Honor Council Administrator ([email protected]). Your questions and options can be discussed, and the Office will assist you in making your decision about whether to report a potential violation or not. Click here to review the process on reporting a suspected violation.

Check study help sites like Chegg or Course Hero for existing course materials.

Each site has takedown request guides for instructors that find their course materials are being misused. Neither site tolerates plagiarism, copyright infringement, or cheating.

  • To submit a Chegg takedown request, click here.
  • To submit a Course Hero takedown request, click here.

Save the work you do find for cheat detection, comparison, and as an evidence item for future Honor Code case reporting.

This may be an indicator that it’s time to mix things up and develop a new assignment.

As a best practice, having multiple/new assignments, exams, and tests in use are shown to reduce cheating. 

Tip: A formal Honor Code case is not possible without finite evidence out of fairness to all parties involved.

No. Per current Honor Code policy, “The Honor Code holds that learners are honorable and trustworthy people and encourages them to behave with integrity in all phases of university life. During examinations, the instructor is available for questions, but the examination is not proctored.”

Trust in our learners is a cornerstone of the current Honor Code. In Winter 2019, the College sought to review the support of our historic model of conducting exams with our current learners. Only a small minority of learners wanted to add proctoring.

When learners were given the opportunity to further explain their answers, they repeated themes relating to not only appreciating the trust of the current model, but also that the lack of proctors reduced test anxiety and provided an experience mirroring a more professional setting. 

The College of Engineering does allow the use of third-party vendors to help administer an exam. These would serve the same basic functions as provided by in-person course staff, such as distributing a test, timed access to test materials, and collection of the completed test.

Communicate expectations frequently! This is the best way to reduce the number of cases. 

Using ENGR 101 as a test population, the College found that incoming freshmen who had received a 25-minute Honor Code presentation were far less likely to engage in inappropriate activities. There was a 60% drop in alleged Honor Code violations in the Fall ‘19 term compared to the Fall ‘18 term.

Talk to your department head about concerns. Unfortunately, the Honor Council team does not have the capacity to assist in this way and must remain neutral in the interactions between the accusers and respondents.

Conversations About The Honor Code

Presented by W. George Sprague, Assistant Director of the Office of Retention and Academic Support Services

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