Strategies for Alternative Online Assessments

Ward, Monica (2021) Strategies for Alternative Online Assessments.


Academic integrity (Macfarlane et al., 2014) is a key requirement of any assessment. Online, open-book, non-invigilated exams are sources of academic integrity concerns for academics (Kennedy et al., 2000) and a source of temptation for students. This paper outlines several strategies for alternative online assessments that have been used successfully for both undergraduate and postgraduate assessment at university.

Some of the strategies move assessments from the lower orders of Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom, 1956), knowledge (remember) and comprehension (understand) to higher levels involving application (apply) and analysis (analyse). It can make setting exams harder for academics and doing them more challenging for students, but it could be argued that the assessments are more authentic (Wiggins, 1990) in that in the real world, students will have access to information and they need to be able to apply it (and not just regurgitate remembered facts). Another benefit of online assessments is that students can use the normal digital tools they usually use to do tasks (e.g. word processing software and spreadsheets) to answer exam questions.

Another strategy is to use smart quizzes. This involves the use of online quizzes that are composed of a combination of randomly selected questions of various types. Quizzes can have paired questions with a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) for checking a basic level of understanding of a concept and a text question to explore the learner’s deeper understanding of the concept. Random ordering of questions, limited time for questions, postponing feedback until after all students have completed the assessment are other helpful features for online quizzes.

The issue of academic integrity is a fundamental concern for non-invigilated exams. While technology can facilitate breaches of academic integrity, it can also be used to detect breaches with the use of plagiarism detection software. However, smartly designed questions are the best tool to limit and mitigate against breaches of academic integrity. This may be more difficult for introductory level courses and for some subjects (e.g. programming and mathematics), but there are alternative question types that can be used to check for understanding and analysis of concepts.

One positive outcome of the move to online assessments is that it ‘encouraged’ many academics to consider non-traditional assessment practices for future assessments (NFTL, 2020). It has enabled those involved in implementing digital transformations in education to move things along at a swifter pace than they would have thought possible.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay, 20, 24.

Macfarlane, B., Zhang, J., & Pun, A. (2014). Academic integrity: a review of the literature. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 339-358.

NTFL, (2020). National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, "Reflecting and Learning: The move to remote/online teaching and learning in Irish higher education," in, Published June 19, 2020.

Wiggins, G. (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Practical assessment, research, and evaluation, 2(1), 2.

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