Online Assessment

In some situations, you may wish to provide assessments online. This guidance discusses the ways online assessment may enhance the learning experience for students, as well as offering practical advice on which tools work best for different types of assessment. 

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Why might you assess online?

  • To support your learning aims and outcomes as part of a constructively aligned curriculum
  • To provide a more authentic learning experience (see this recent paper by Sally Brown and Kay Sambell about alternative assessments - Word doc, 36KB)
  • To automate some parts of the assessment process
  • To make assessment more inclusive and accessible (in some situations)
  • Where assessments that would normally take place face-to-face (e.g. formal exams) need to move online

For more information, see our guidance on Choosing, changing and planning assessment methods

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Inclusive and accessible online assessment

While online assessment might be more accessible for some students, it can cause problems for others. Students may have differing levels of access to or control over broadband, hard/software, resources, information, or quiet and spacious study space.

You can make assessment more inclusive by:

  • allowing a degree of choice and flexibility in assessment;
  • providing clear information for students;
  • explaining the rationale behind assessment choices.

Where at all possible, embed equality impact analysis when making decisions about assessment in your department.

You will also need to support students with Learner Support Plans and provide reasonable adjustments as appropriate. Whilst there is a lot you can do to support disabled students by taking an inclusive approach to the design of assessment, please see additional guidance for supporting disabled students with online assessment:

Supporting disabled students with online assessment

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Academic integrity and unfair means in online assessment

Remember the importance of supporting students to understand academic integrity and to avoid unfair means in digital assessment.

Teaching students about academic integrity

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Guidance on types of assessment and digital tools

Assessment is a high stakes process and we strongly advise using institutionally supported tools. These benefit from central support and guidance, and relationships with suppliers to troubleshoot if things go wrong. For more information please see Digital learning tools: supported and unsupported tools.

Open book exams

How does this work?

Questions/tasks can be set virtually. These can be multiple choice question (MCQ) tests, short answer tests, or long-form/essay questions. Students submit their responses electronically within a set period of time.

Pedagogical considerations
  • Exam questions need to be based on interpretation of information and application of knowledge rather than recall. This may mean that MCQ exam questions, in particular, may need to be revised to include more application-based tasks that cannot easily be looked up online or in textbooks. There is the opportunity to offer students the chance to demonstrate their skills in synthesis of information, critical analysis, interpretation of information and evidence, argument, and creativity.
  • If this is an assessment type students haven’t encountered before, provide clear guidance to students on both the mechanics of the assessment and the rationale for its use.
  • Plagiarism is a risk, but this can be mitigated by careful design of exam questions as outlined above. Refer to our guidance about teaching students about academic integrity.
  • Allow a reasonable amount of time for students to complete an open-book exam - the time allowed will vary depending on the task you are setting.
  • Make word limits very clear and advise students to stick to the time given. Advice around time management will be useful for students. Do not schedule assessment over a weekend.
  • For further useful guidance (particularly for STEM subjects), see this guide to open-book exams produced by CBE.
What technology supports this online assessment method?

Blackboard Assignments

Turnitin - only for submission of a single text-based assignment if an originality report is required

Blackboard Tests


Written assignments

How does this work?

Students submit a written piece of coursework by a set date. The format of the assignment could be varied (essays, portfolios, reports, literature reviews, methodologies, media articles, etc).

Pedagogical considerations
  • If this assessment type is going to be new to students, offer the chance to practise and receive feedback in advance of the final assessment.
What technology supports this online assessment method?

Written assignments can be managed with Blackboard Assignments and Turnitin.

Portfolio based assignments can be managed with PebblePad, or simpler tools such as Blackboard Journals. See the Online portfolios section below for more detail on digital portfolios.


Media submissions

How does this work?

Students produce a recording of themselves or their work and submit online. Some examples include:

  • Presentations
  • Performances
  • Short films/documentaries
  • Podcasts
  • Pitches
  • Screencasts

The Creative Media team has detailed the benefits of using media as an assessment, alongside some examples of student work.

Pedagogical considerations
  • In the marking criteria, you will need to account for students having multiple opportunities to prepare the content they are submitting.
  • Presentations should be kept as short as possible to take home bandwidth upload speeds into account on submission. Provide guides to suitable recording technology (for various operating systems and devices).
  • Make it clear that marking is on content rather than expertise with technology, unless that is relevant for the subject area.
  • Consider asking students to submit accompanying written narratives that explain their decision-making process and frame their work.
What technology supports this online assessment method?

The Creative Media Team offer a whole range of support, equipment and facilities to assist students with media based projects.

Software for producing / recording

Kaltura Capture

PowerPoint - includes ability to record narrated presentations

For submission

Blackboard Assignment tool - all media submissions should be made via Kaltura in Blackboard


Online portfolios

How does this work?

Students collect a range of evidence of their work or achievements in relation to a set of competencies or criteria, and submit this in an online format.

Pedagogical considerations
  • Consider the format of the types of things students might be submitting, and use the simplest framework possible for your online portfolio.
  • Some platforms require a steeper learning curve for staff and students.
What technology supports this online assessment method?

PebblePad - fully featured ePortfolio software. Very flexible with full assessment functionality, but higher learning curve for staff and students

Google Sites - easy website creation

Blackboard Journals - simple tool within Blackboard


Group work/peer assessment

How does this work?

Groups may collaborate online on assessment, and submit in an online format. Peer assessment (where students look at submissions from peers and critique/assess it, as part of developing assessment and feedback literacy) can also be done online.

Pedagogical considerations

Group assessments need lots of planning. Think carefully about the learning outcomes, assessment criteria, how you will support students to work effectively in groups, and how you will deal with any problems in groups. See Elevate guidance on group work.

Peer assessment can be very valuable for developing students’ skills and assessment literacy. As with group assessment, think carefully about the marking criteria, how you will support students through the process and how you will deal with any problems that arise. Our guidance on assessment literacy includes some ideas and sample activities for introducing peer assessment.

What technology supports this online assessment method?

Students can use Google applications for collaboration

Blackboard group assignments (for submission of group assignments)

Blackboard Peer Assessment tool

Turnitin PeerMark

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What support can I get?

Elevate also offers one to one appointment slots, which can be used to discuss online assessments.

For queries relating to using digital tools for assessment, the Digital Learning Helpdesk is open Monday - Friday 8am - 5pm: digital.learning@sheffield.ac.uk

You can also email Elevate at any time for non-technical support on the pedagogy of online assessments: elevate@sheffield.ac.uk

For queries relating to changes to assessment, contact your Faculty Academic Programmes and Quality contact.