How do students feel about alternative assessments?

As I was reading through the material this week, I agreed with many of the arguments made in favor of alternatives to traditional exams. Yet, I also found myself concerned by some of the criticisms proposed against alternative assessment formats. For example, Lombardi (2008) highlighted some pushback from faculty, who may be concerned with the difficulty implementing these assessments in large classrooms or potential issues with objective, consistent grading. Since I haven’t experienced these non-traditional forms of assessment in my academic career, I decided to do a bit of research into how these alternatives are implemented in practice and how students benefit.

I found a recent paper from a thermodynamics class where the professor replaced the final exam with a portfolio since students were now virtual due to COVID (Vigeant, 2021). The portfolio assignment required students to review the learning outcomes for the course, and for each outcome, “identify a situation where that concept applies, write and solve appropriately simplified and justified mathematical descriptions of that situation, and then to extend the implications of that solution in some way and reflect” (Vigeant, 2021). The author of the article reported that student achievement was similar to that on previous exams, with students reporting that they felt a higher sense of accomplishment with the portfolio. Ultimately, though, most students would have preferred an exam, but they didn’t indicate why.

There are many articles out there that emphasize the benefits of alternative assessments compared with exams. But after reading the Vigeant (2021) article, I am left wondering how students feel about alternative assessment methods compared to exams. Do they prefer these methods to traditional exams and grades? How do these methods impact their wellbeing? What are their criticisms, if any, about the way the material is graded? And most importantly, if students don’t enjoy these alternative assessments, should we still employ them if they do seem more beneficial than exams? Throughout this semester, we have learned about working together with students to adapt material to fit their learning styles or get their feedback on class material. But the material we read this week made no reference to the students’ take on these assessment methods. I agree that traditional exams aren’t the best method to assess student learning, but I would like to know more from students about their experiences using these assessment techniques. I tried searching for blogs or stories from students describing their experiences, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. If anyone finds more information about student perspectives on this topic, feel free to share. Until then I will remain a hopeful, but skeptical student (and sometimes teacher), on replacing traditional assessment methods with the alternatives proposed!

References

Lombardi, M. M. (2008). Making the grade: The role of assessment in authentic learning. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 1-16.

Vigeant, M. (2021). A portfolio replacement for a traditional final exam in thermodynamics. Education for Chemical Engineers, 35, 1-6.