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Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Online Assessment Best Practices

The design of course assessments can significantly affect student learning and engagement. Assessment is intended primarily to demonstrate achievement of course learning outcomes and acts as a source of motivation in driving student decision-making regarding how and when to study. Creating meaningful online assessments presents unique challenges for instructors who are used to teaching in face-to-face settings. It is possible to create practical, rigorous online assessments; however, special consideration must be given to alignment with learning outcomes, assessment type, technological feasibility, and academic integrity.

Authentic Assessments

High-Level Tips

  1. Be explicit about how the assessment relates to real-world tasks.
  2. Scaffold assessments to support student learning.
  3. Use a rubric.
  4. Focus more on the process than the result.
  5. Provide specific, constructive feedback.


Authentic assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of course content through real-world or simulated activities (Shaw, 2019). Students complete tasks that require them to engage with the learning material in different ways or contexts, often over a period of time, which helps to promote student learning. While these types of assessments have traditionally been conducted in face-to-face courses, authentic assessments can also be utilized in online courses. For example, nursing students may be given a patient case study and asked to create a plan of care based on the information provided. Instructors can utilize the tools in Canvas to create and evaluate authentic assessments. Authentic assessments are also beneficial in reducing cheating, as the focus is often on the process students go through to achieve the result rather than the result itself.

Best Practices

When developing authentic assessments, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Be explicit about how the assessment relates to real-world tasks. Students are likely to benefit more from an assessment if they understand the rationale behind it and how they will apply the same skills in their future careers. For example, if students are being asked to work in a group to create a marketing plan for a company, explain the importance of teamwork in marketing, and include an evaluation of teamwork as part of the assessment.
  • Scaffold assessments to support student learning. Before asking students to complete an authentic assessment, it’s helpful to provide scaffolding for the assessment by having students complete smaller pieces of the assessment with proper support and feedback. For example, if students will be teaching a math lesson to 5th graders, you can scaffold that assessment by first having them complete a lesson plan, create a classroom management plan, and record themselves practicing the lesson. Providing feedback on each of these smaller assessments prior to the final assessment will help ensure students are prepared.
  • Use a rubric. While grading authentic assessments does take more time and effort, providing a rubric that includes specific grading criteria will help to ensure that students understand the expectations and it will make the process of grading the submissions less time-consuming.
  • Focus more on the process than the result. The goal of authentic assessments is to prepare students for what they may encounter in the “real world.” Helping them understand the process of decision-making and potential real-world consequences is a crucial component of this preparation. The result, or consequence, of a student’s decision should be seen as a starting point for learning, rather than an end.
  • Provide specific, constructive feedback. Authentic assessments are designed not as single opportunities to demonstrate mastery, but as a way to guide students toward improving aspects of the tasks that they have not yet mastered. In addition to using a rubric to grade authentic assessments, it’s also important to provide students with specific, constructive feedback that they can use to improve their performance for the next assessment.


  • Patient case study - students provide a plan of care
  • Create a marketing plan for a company
  • Roleplay historical events
  • Mock counseling sessions
  • Simulations (nursing, etc.)



Academic Integrity

High-Level Tips

  1. Communicate your expectations clearly.
  2. Use authentic assessments rather than multiple-choice quizzes to assess student learning.
  3. Divide large high-stakes exams into smaller weekly quizzes.
  4. Have students affirm their academic honesty at the beginning and end of each exam.
  5. Utilize Canvas Quiz settings to promote academic integrity.


UNF is committed to creating a culture of integrity which is a key foundation of online assessment design. According to the UNF Academic Misconduct Policy, “misconduct consists of any attempt to misrepresent one's performance on any exercise submitted for evaluation.” Academic integrity is seen as a shared effort between the faculty member, student, and institution.

Instead of focusing on punitive measures, let’s advocate a better understanding of what we want learners to do and create meaningful and authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning.

Best Practices

  • Communicate your expectations clearly
    • Set clear class policies: due dates, late assignment policy
    • Write detailed assignment instructions
    • Use grading rubrics
  • Apply rules and policies consistently to build trust
    • Promote a culture of integrity in your teaching practices and courses. In order for academic integrity to be instilled, it must be discussed. Students will not create the necessary mental links nor practice these behaviors by osmosis.
  • Divide large high-stakes exams into smaller weekly quizzes
  • Have students affirm their academic honesty at the beginning and end of each exam
    • Create a statement that provides students with detailed quiz instructions: “You are allowed to use a calculator for this quiz. During and after the test, do not reveal your answers to anyone. By selecting ‘Take the Quiz’ you agree to the following statement: "I confirm that I am the designated student taking the test and that this is all my own work."
  • Use authentic assessments rather than multiple-choice quizzes to assess student learning. Authentic assessments typically have various solutions making it more difficult for students to copy others’ work. In addition, these types of assignments tend to be more engaging and gratifying and therefore encourage academic integrity.
  • Utilize Canvas Quiz settings to promote academic integrity.
  • Incorporate flexibility into assessments to accommodate varying student requirements and recognize the specific obstacles students may face during the semester.


  • Properly cite and quote resources (readings, videos, articles, etc.) in your courses to lead by example
  • Provide comparative examples of plagiarism and original writing to demonstrate best practices.
  • Create scaffolded assignments instead of one big project.
  • Provide many formative assessment opportunities.
  • Include academic integrity or an honor code statement to your syllabus, assignments, quizzes
  • Use TurnItIn with your writing assignments-create teachable moments for first infractions.
  • Utilize CIRT’s proctoring services for online exams.



Collaborative Assessments

High-Level Tips

  1. Design a thoughtful and manageable trajectory for collaborative assignments. Chunk or break up assignments into smaller activities when possible to support learning.
  2. Give your students rationale and purpose. Explain why you’re having them work in groups and why they’re conducting the work assigned. When possible, connect your rationale to students’ personal interests and professional pursuits.
  3. Create discussion groups of five to seven students for more personal and approachable discussion spaces. Smaller discussions are more engaging, and maintaining the same discussion group members allows students to connect and grow with their classmates.
  4. Give students options. Allow students choice in how their work can be presented.
  5. Offer lines of support. Group projects can be intimidating, so make yourself approachable and remind students that you’re available to discuss their ideas and approaches to group work.


Collaborative assessments give students the opportunity to engage with their classmates, which can expose students to new ways of thinking and learning. Although there are challenges to conducting group work online, an organized and supportive assessment design encourages students to work with others to gain new perspectives as they apply their thinking. This results in both skill and social development on academic, professional, and personal levels.

Such design coupled with ongoing faculty support can make collaborative assessments more approachable and impactful. Best practices for specific collaborative assignments including discussions and peer reviews are also addressed.

Best Practices

Scaffolded Design

Taking the time to thoughtfully plan for and chunk out your collaborative assessment will make execution, interaction, and grading more manageable. We recommend chunking—or breaking up—the assignment into smaller activities when possible. To do this, consider how the assignment can be broken down into parts or phases and an appropriate timeframe students will need to complete each part. Then arrange these pieces into your curriculum as milestone assignments that students are tasked with completing so they approach the project through a thoughtful trajectory, maintain a healthy pace, receive constructive feedback, and are set up for a successful (and less stressful) final deliverable.

Consult the prompts and questions below to be guided through a general planning process that will help you design an intuitive and supportive collaborative assignment.

  • How can you inform your students about the assignment in a timely manner? At a minimum, provide a brief overview of the collaborative assignment (and the level of collaboration expected) in one of your first modules so students are made aware of the collaboration and time required of them. This should prompt them to plan ahead, and even begin thinking about their game plan in the immediacy. Alternatively, you can link to the assignment itself so students can review the instructions in full.
  • How can you help students feel more comfortable working with their peers? Icebreaker discussions are an efficient means of inviting students to open up, share their interests, and connect with their classmates. Consider incorporating prompts that will help students get to know one another, reminding them that the connections they make in the icebreaker will likely give them an idea of whom they’d like to work with for future group-based assignments.
  • How will students be paired up? Instead of entrusting students to create groups on their own time, create an assignment (with a due date!) where students are tasked with pairing up with their classmate(s) for the collaborative project. You can use the People area of your Canvas course to set up group shells with a designated number of members, and then direct students to self-sign-up for a group.
  • How will you promote positive collaboration? Clear expectations and respect among group members promote a healthy work environment for collaboration. You can set the tone for such an environment by outlining expectations for both the assignment and work ethic. Consider that some of your students may have little experience (or negative experiences) with group work. What would help these students feel more comfortable and confident in contributing to their group efforts? Consider the ideas below.
    • Outline a brief set of recommendations for being a positive contributor to online group projects. Connecting these traits to professional applications can also encourage student commitment to such collaboration.
    • Share your favorite tools for collaborating from a distance. Remind students of the conveniences afforded by video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, and how they can be used to meet with group members without having to physically meet anywhere. Collaborative platforms like Google Drive (Google Docs, Google Slides) and Microsoft Office 365 (cloud-based Word documents and PowerPoints) allow multiple users to work on a document at the same time, which can come in handy for brainstorming, note sharing, and project development. Students might also benefit from reminders of simple communication methods, like sharing their email addresses or telephone numbers for efficient group communication and resource sharing. And even though the course is online, you don’t have to dismiss traditional ways of collaborating; students who are local can schedule times to meet up on campus or at another convenient location.
    • Invite students to create a collaboration contract where they identify their collaboration goals, define individual roles and responsibilities, and commit to equal contribution. This contract can also prompt students to consider potential challenges that might arise during group work and to devise appropriate solutions to those challenges—this could actually make for an interesting discussion board activity, if you wanted to go that route.
    • Incorporate surveys that ask students to evaluate the efforts of their group members and themselves and make the results of these evaluations part of the project grade.
  • How will you keep the collaborative assignment on your students’ radar? Sprinkle in reminders and tips throughout your Canvas pages to remind students of the collaborative assignment they should be working on. You might also consider chunking the collaboration into smaller segments to make the project more manageable and prevent students from waiting until the last minute to complete the project in its entirety.

    For example, if students are tasked with creating a presentation, you can chunk the presentation into parts and request that each drafted part be submitted by designated due dates. This way students are encouraged to maintain a healthy pace with the project, thus preventing a last-minute scramble. Asking students to complete the project in segments also allows you to provide feedback along the way— you can intervene if students are misunderstanding concepts or the assignment altogether, or you can reinforce a job well done to give your students a confidence boost and reassure them they’re on the right track. This way when the final assignment is due, students have had opportunities to meet the expectations, make the most of the experience, and experience success.
  • What are your expectations for assignment submissions? Consider if you’d like just one student to submit the assignment on behalf of the group, or if you’d prefer each student to submit the assignment. If you elect for the former, be sure that your instructions mention that all group members’ names should be included on the first page, slide, etc.

Faculty Support

  • Reminding students that you’re there to help: The research suggests that faculty who include reach-out messages are more likely to be contacted by their students. By inviting students to contact you with questions regarding assignments, you offer a simple yet effective reminder to students that you’re available to support them with the assignment. You can take this a step further by detailing how you can help students (e.g., how to get started, better understanding the expectations, how to find resources, how to collaborate with teammates) and inviting them to contact you with questions related to those and any other matters.
  • Including assignment accouterments: Consider how you can make the assignment instructions and expectations clear to your students. In addition to the typed instructions for the assignment, you might also consider creating a video where you use the screencast feature to walk through the assignment instructions and explain to (or show) students how to approach each component of the assignment. Another idea is to provide successful examples of the final project. These could include an instructor-created example or exemplars that previous students have submitted—with their permission acquired and personal information omitted, of course.
  • Providing tutorials for any required technology: Does the assignment require students to use technology? If so, provide them with resources and tutorials for using that technology. For example, if students are tasked with creating a video, you can supply them with tutorials for using Canvas Studio, including how to find the application, what features are available, and how to use each feature. You can also provide a tutorial on how to submit a video file to a Canvas assignment. Similarly, if you’re asking students to use a learning tool such as Flipgrid, VoiceThread, or Google Slides, provide a brief overview and support resources for students who may have never used (or even heard of) the tool before. For a fully scaffolded approach, you might also incorporate activities early on where students practice using the required technology so they’re more comfortable using it for their final deliverable.

Peer Reviews

Peer review is another form of collaboration where students are exposed to new ways of thinking and doing. It also encourages them to engage in critical thinking and present a balance of observations (i.e., strengths and areas for growth). Assigning peer reviews also reduces your burden of providing explicit feedback on draft assignments.

  • Like group projects, a peer review deserves a methodical and supported design. Engage students in the critique process early on—share resources that explain how to conduct a peer review, what the intentions of peer review are, and what a good peer review looks like (this is another opportunity to share student examples). You’ll also want to keep the associated learning objectives in your students’ minds—as a peer reviewer, what should they be noting in the work they’re critiquing? Providing students with low-stakes critiques early on can also be beneficial; this way you ease students into the process and can provide feedback on individual approaches.
  • You’ll also want to introduce your students to annotation tools for conducting peer reviews. If you use the Peer Review feature in Canvas (more on this below), you’ll want to orient students with the DocViewer, which is the annotation tool native to Canvas (you might have used this providing feedback on your students’ submissions). Similarly, if you allow students to use other annotation tools, like Track Changes (Microsoft Word) or the Suggestion feature in Google Docs, you’ll want to provide tutorials for those tools.
  • You can facilitate peer reviews using the Peer Review feature in Canvas. You can consult the Canvas Guides and this video tutorial for an overview of how to set up such assignments in your course, or you can always contact CIRT for individualized support and setup.


Ask yourself the following before creating a discussion: Does this actually facilitate a discussion, or would it be better off as an individual assignment? One reason many discussions fall flat is that the prompt doesn’t invite the sharing of novel ideas or perspectives. If all of your students are likely to respond with the same things, there isn’t going to be much drive for discussion, and the assignment might be better off as an individual submission or even a comprehension quiz. But if you’re excited about the potential discussions to be had around a topic or prompt, here are a few ideas that might help your students engage in the kind of dialogue you’re hoping for.

  • Ask students to share their thoughts experienced during an instructional interaction. Provide examples of things students might share from the interaction, such as:
    • An excerpt that resonated with them—along with an explanation of why and a connection to or expansion of the prompt and/or learning objective.
    • Something that was unclear—citing the point in question and sharing the current interpretation along with pointed questions that will help bring better understanding.
    • Something they personally connected with—ask them to share a short narrative of their personal experience and how the interaction connected to their personal experience, expanded their interpretation of that experience, etc.
    • Something they think will be useful moving forward—whether this knowledge or skill is something that will help them in their professional endeavors, personal development, or simply doing well in your course.
  • Divide students up into small groups of three to five to create more intimate discussion spaces. Smaller discussions tend to be more approachable and engaging, and maintaining the same discussion group allows students to connect with their classmates on a deeper level and grow with each other through the term.
  • Embracing principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), you can offer students choice in discussion participation. You can give students the option to respond to x-number of discussions throughout the term, or you can present a small number of discussion prompts for students to choose from. The latter also lends itself to setting reply criteria, in which you can ask students to reply to someone who responded to a prompt different from the one they responded to. Another way to offer choice in discussions is to allow students to engage in the discussion with text or video, and invite students to share visual representations if they enhance their talking points. Engaging with media elements can also help with motivation and recall.
  • You can take discussion groups one step further by assigning students rotating roles as the Original Poster, Respondent, and Research. The Original Poster is the one responsible for creating the main response to the prompt. The Respondent(s) are tasked with engaging with the original poster, responding to their contributions, and furthering the discussion. The Researcher then locates resources to substantiate (or dispute) the talking points made by the original poster and respondents to further extend the discussion.
  • Suggest a framework for engaging in more productive exchanges, such as 3CQ (Comment-Compliment-Connect-Question), or provide students with a rubric or checklist for content and interaction quality.




Group Work

Peer Review


Assessment Types

High-Level Tips

  1. Mix It Up. Incorporate a combination of formative and summative assessments in your online course. Online learners benefit from both types of assessment when utilized in a strategic fashion to support the learning process.
  2. Focus on intentionality. Keep in mind the purpose of both types of assessments. Formative assessments work best when utilized to give feedback and prepare for success on later summative assessments.
  3. Allow Bloom’s Taxonomy to guide assessment creation. Lower-level cognitive skills (i.e., define, identify) in formative assessments lay a solid foundation in challenging students to utilize higher-level cognitive skills (i.e., apply, critique) found on summative assessments.
  4. Keep it simple. Formative assessment can be as simple and informal. A quick poll, reflection activity, outline or draft submission all operate as examples of simple formative assessments that provide a touchpoint of assurance or opportunity for correction for online learners.
  5. Incentive formative assessments. For better or worse, online learners often skip optional or ungraded activities. Offering a nominal point value encourages completion, which allows the instructor to provide confirmation that learners are on the right track or easily identify struggling students and offer early intervention.
  6. Iterate each semester. Which formative assessments were effective in supporting student learning? Could your formative assessment be revised to better align with a subsequent summative assessment? Which summative assessments could benefit from incorporating a formative assessment, and thereby, better supporting student’s learning?


A well-designed course includes clear, specific, and measurable learning objectives, stating what students will learn, instructional materials and strategies to help achieve those objectives, and assessments to determine how learning will be measured. Each of the aforementioned elements (learning objectives, instructional materials, and strategies, assessments) are in alignment when they support and build off of each other.

Clear, specific, and measurable objectives are a cornerstone best practice for online course design, and Bloom’s taxonomy is an often-utilized resource to begin crafting objectives. The taxonomy compiles lists of verbs that describe observable cognitive skills. Organized in tiers, each tier progresses from lower-order (remembering, understanding) to higher-order cognitive skills (applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating). Whether teaching an undergraduate or graduate course, instructors should incorporate a mix of lower- and higher-order verbs into their course learning objectives. A curated set of assessments (otherwise known as assignments) then “test” students on precisely what was described in the objective, in the manner in which it was described.


Learning Objective (example): Describe the significance of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V-TR) in the classification of psychological disorders
Instructional Material (example): Chapter textbook reading, YouTube video on the DSM-V
Assessment (example): Students are presented with a discussion board prompt in which they discuss amongst each other the significance of the DSM-V-TR across interdisciplinary fields (i.e., psychology, psychiatry, social work, medicine)

There is an array of different assessments that instructors employ in their online courses, aside from the prototypical quiz, essay, or exam. All assessment types share a goal of measuring student learning. A simple strategy to help scaffold and support student learning is to incorporate a mixture of both formative and summative assessments throughout the course.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are designed with the goal of sampling student learning. Its aim is to provide additional feedback to further guide the learning process (Sewell, Frith, & Colvin, 2010). Typically, these are low-stakes assessments and may be conducted formally (i.e., multiple attempt quiz) or informally (i.e., ungraded poll). Although ungraded assessments function as valuable feedback mechanisms, there is a distinct benefit for graded assessments – higher completion rates. Even a negligible point value encourages students to invest time in completing the activity.

Formative assessment (examples – a non-exhaustive list):

  • Polls
  • Pre-tests for foundational knowledge
  • Muddiest Point discussion forum
  • Peer review and feedback
  • Draft submission of project sections
  • Reading check/knowledge-check quizzes
  • Assignment outlines
  • Reflection activity
  • Small group case study activity

As a best practice, it is recommended to weave frequent, low-stakes formative assessments into online courses (Sewell, Frith, & Colvin, 2010). Formative assessments benefit student learning as building blocks to help achieve higher-order learning objectives; additional opportunity to “practice” applying knowledge of core course content; decreased anxiety or internal pressure to do well on high-stakes assessments; and reduction of last-minute cramming, cheating, or plagiarism. The inclusion of formative assessment also helps create a continuous feedback loop between student and instructor, offering an opportunity for early intervention for struggling students.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are also recommended for well-designed online courses. These are higher-stakes (often cumulative) assessments that evaluate student learning at the end of a module, unit, or course. Whereas formative assessments serve as “practice” and prompt awareness of student learning gaps, it is the summative assessment that is the final “judge” of learning objective mastery. Indeed, earlier feedback from formative assessments may serve to reinforce understanding, highlight nuance, correct misunderstanding, or encourage further critical thinking that supports students in excelling (with increased confidence!) when completing the summative assessment.

Summative assessments (examples – a non-exhaustive list):

  • Exams
  • Essays
  • Research papers
  • Problem sets
  • Final projects

Summative assessment feedback is often quite straightforward, in the case of multiple-choice exams or problem sets, in which there is a clear-cut correct answer. However, many instructors also utilize more “open-ended” means of assessment, such as essays, final projects, and research papers. In these situations, grading rubrics are highly recommended for greater transparency and detail in explaining how student work will be evaluated in connection with its associated learning objectives.

Common questions concern protecting the integrity of assessments when given online. Online proctoring tools, such as Honorlock, are recommended to protect the integrity of exams and promote academic honesty. Other concerns, such as plagiarism, are also common, and tools such as TurnItIn, are integral to encouraging students to submit their own original work. Instructors should consider incorporating an academic integrity policy in their syllabi, and remind students of it, if necessary, as part of the instructions for the assessment.


Adapting Assessments

High-Level Tips

  1. Review the related course and module objectives.
  2. Use a variety of assessment methods.
  3. Consider how to engage students with you, each other, and the content.
  4. Make use of available technology.
  5. Contact your Instructional Design liaison.


When you transition to teaching a course online, it can often be challenging to reimagine how the assessments you perfected for your face-to-face courses will work in an online environment. This is especially true for group projects or other assessments that typically rely on classroom interactions. However, there are ways to adapt these assessments for online learning.

Best Practices

When adapting your assessments for online learning, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Review the related course and module objectives. Transitioning a course into a new delivery modality can be a great time to go back and review the objectives to ensure that your assessments are aligned with your objectives. Consider how students can demonstrate their mastery of course objectives using text, video/audio, and graphics. For example, students could identify important historical events by answering multiple choice quiz questions, typing a paper, recording a video presentation, or creating a timeline.
  • Use a variety of assessment methods. After you review your objectives and brainstorm assessment options, decide which method would best align with the specific course objective, aiming to use a variety of assessment methods throughout the course.
  • Consider how to engage students with you, each other, and the content. Student engagement is a key part of a successful online course. Carefully plan for ways that students can engage with you (e.g., office hours, weekly announcements, feedback surveys), each other (e.g., online discussions, group projects, study groups), and the content (e.g., readings, videos, assignments, activities).
  • Make use of available technology. Canvas provides a wealth of assessment tools, including Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, and Canvas Studio. Students can submit typed essays in Assignments, complete quizzes and exams using the Quizzes tool, and create and comment on videos in Canvas Studio. There are also external tools that can be integrated into your Canvas course such as VoiceThread, which allows for asynchronous text, audio, and video discussions, and online programs that students can use to create visual content, such as Canva. Also, don’t forget about good old-fashioned pen and paper. For example, students can work out statistical problems on paper and upload a photo of their work in Canvas.
  • Contact your Instructional Design liaison. The CIRT Instructional Design team is happy to work with you to transition your face-to-face assessment ideas online.


  • In-class group presentation -> VoiceThread group presentation
  • In-class mock counseling session -> Zoom mock counseling session
  • In-class student feedback on presentations -> Canvas Studio time-coded comments



High-Level Tips

  1. Use feedback to identify strengths and areas of need, not substantiating a grade. Structure your feedback to identify what was missed, clarify misunderstandings, and guide students toward the learning targets.
  2. Exude your instructor presence. Feedback is an opportunity to connect with your students and show them you care about their progress.
  3. Incorporate technology when appropriate. Canvas provides tools for general comments, in-line annotations, and video responses so you can share constructive feedback.
  4. Be aware of the three feedback areas in Canvas—and make your students aware of them, too. Use one or more of these spaces intentionally, and ensure your students know which feedback areas you use and how to access them.
  5. Be mindful of your word count and feedback structure. Effective feedback is constructive, kind, direct, and specific.


Substantive and timely feedback is a critical component of effective teaching and student success. The goal of feedback is to help students monitor their progress and to continue guiding their achievement of the course learning objectives by reinforcing concepts and clarifying misconceptions. Feedback also has the potential to increase student motivation to learn and to build resilience and determination.

Best Practices

  • Use feedback as a means of identifying strengths and areas of need, not substantiating the grade. Instead of explaining why points were deducted, focus your feedback on identifying what was missed, clarifying misunderstandings, and guiding students toward the learning target. This might also prompt you to consider accepting make-up work (under reasonable conditions). If the goal is to help students achieve the learning objectives, they should have guidance and opportunities to do so.
  • Design effective (and efficient) rubrics. A rubric should reflect the assignment criteria and describe what criteria fulfillment looks like across a range of grading levels. Rubrics help students understand your expectations and what they need to demonstrate in order to achieve success (and a good grade) on an assignment, and they help instructors spend less time determining grades and calculating point values. Considering this, a well-designed rubric will help both you and your students understand the learning objectives and identify achievement.
  • Use automated feedback and templates when appropriate. For formative assessments like multiple-choice quizzes, you can use the automated feedback feature in Canvas to provide immediate feedback. Since the goal of these assessments is to evaluate whether students possess basic knowledge before progressing to more complex topics, students benefit from having immediate automated feedback so they can monitor their progress and revisit any areas of need.

    Canvas also features an Assignment Comment Library, which allows you to create feedback templates that you can easily retrieve and embed in the general comments of an assignment. Using feedback templates can save you time and help you stay focused on identifying strengths and areas of need.
  • Be transparent with (and mindful of) your turnaround time. Turnaround times will vary depending on the complexity of the assignment, and this is something you should make clear to your students. Use your syllabus to communicate your feedback commitments, including what kind of feedback students can expect to receive on different assignment types and how that feedback can be used to guide their learning. Your commitment should also indicate turnaround times and ranges.

    For example, while quizzes are equipped to provide immediate feedback, assignments that require your personal evaluation will require multiple days. You might be able to review discussion posts and provide grades and feedback within a few days, whereas evaluation of research papers, presentations, and the like might take upwards of one week.

    You’ll also want to keep your learning sequence and scaffolded assignments in mind and ensure that students receive feedback in time to review your guidance and reinforce concepts before advancing to the next topic or assignment.
  • Follow the golden rule of online communication: Read what you typed before sending. Before submitting feedback, take the time to read (or watch) your feedback. Critique your feedback to determine if you’ve identified strengths, areas of need, and corresponding guidance and support resources. It’s also a good idea to consider the tone of your feedback and revise components that might come off as overly negative, deprecating, or condescending. Including the student’s name and identifying at least one strength in their work or effort can make feedback more palatable.
  • Infuse your instructor presence. Feedback is the communication channel your students are most likely to engage with (i.e., read). This is your opportunity to connect with your students and show them you care about their progress and that you want them to experience success. While some assessments (e.g., quizzes, discussions) can be evaluated with automated or general feedback, others demand our unique guidance and expertise—it’s these opportunities where we can show our true selves along with our level of care and support. This is also a space where you can convey your intonation and personality. Employ punctuation to communicate the intended tone (e.g., an exclamation for excitement), and if emojis are your thing, use them!
  • Use technology when appropriate.
    • In-line annotations: For typed document submissions, in-line feedback within the document provides context and an objective understanding of what specifically worked well and what was lacking. The DocViewer in Canvas allows you to provide in-line feedback, much like Track Changes in Microsoft Word.
    • Screencast: In other situations, you might want to screencast student work and verbally share feedback. You can use your mouse, magnifying features, and your voice to speak to your students’ work.
    • Video/Webcam: When I ask students to submit a video assignment, I make an effort to reciprocate with video feedback. Getting on camera can be anxiety-inducing, and it’s impactful to return the bravery and effort. This is also a channel for exuding your instructor presence.
  • Use the feedback areas in Canvas wisely. The typical assignment offers three areas for feedback: general comments, rubric, and in-line annotations. The general comments are what students will see in the grades area. If you wish students to review additional feedback in the rubric or in-line annotations, it’s a good idea to make note of that in your general comments.

    You’ll also want to be mindful of your word count and feedback structure. Effective feedback is constructive, kind, and specific (McCarthy, 2016). You’ll also want to be mindful of the length of your commentary—consider the character count of a Twitter post (280 characters, or about 40-70 words).

    Use the general comments to concisely recognize the student’s efforts along with the main component they did well with and the main component(s) they didn’t do so well with. Then direct them to the rubric or in-line annotations for more detailed feedback and guidance. For this more detailed feedback, include questions that will elicit the knowledge and/or skills you were expecting them to demonstrate in the assignment (e.g., Consider the lecture from Module 4: What are some examples of [this concept]? This will help to substantiate your claim and demonstrate your understanding of [the topic].)

    The closing of your general comment can invite the student to contact you should they have questions or wish to discuss anything in greater detail with you. You can direct them to either comment back in the Canvas assignment or send you an email (be sure to include your email address for convenience).




High-Level Tips

  1. Teach within each student’s Zone of Proximal Development
  2. Set learning goals and objectives and share them with students
  3. Chunk complex content or assessments
  4. Use formative assessment to gauge the effectiveness of instruction
  5. Reduce support as students become more self-sufficient


Scaffolding is an instructional method that guides students towards greater self-reliance and a deeper comprehension of concepts as they progress through the learning process. Students benefit from scaffolding content in the same way construction workers use scaffolds to reach higher levels of a building project. This instructional strategy necessitates careful planning and includes an initial assessment of students' prior knowledge and progress monitoring to determine which supports are still needed and which can be eliminated. As a student progresses through the learning process, they face more complex content that necessitates the addition of new supports that will eventually decrease.


Zone of Proximal Development Graphic


Scaffolding aims to improve students' mastery and develop their abilities as self-regulated learners. This is achieved by giving an adequate amount of instructional support based on the needs of the students and the difficulty of the content. Scaffolding can be adjusted, lessened, or omitted as students progress as learners.

Zone of Proximal Development

The concept of scaffolding learning derives from Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. ZPD argues that defining the area (zone) between what a student can do independently and what that same student can do with support is essential. The “zone” is a space where students can learn, practice skills, and accomplish what they would not be able to without support and guidance. Teaching students below ZPD means students are learning content and practicing skills they have already acquired, which results in little to no learning. Alternatively, teaching students only concepts they are unfamiliar with leads to confusion and failure. Even though the learning process is sometimes accompanied by uncertainty and initial failure, scaffolding is employed to eliminate needless challenges and promote student achievement. Teaching within students’ Zone of Proximal Development enables them to use their existing knowledge in relevant ways while obtaining guidance and opportunities to practice skills to achieve the course's learning outcomes.

Best Practices

Scaffolding Your Course

The scaffolding process should be deliberately integrated into the course's design and instruction.

  1. Determine students’ prior knowledge
  2. Set learning goals/objectives
  3. Plan instruction and support while considering what skills/knowledge can be divided into smaller chunks
  4. Implement instruction
  5. Use formative assessment to gauge the effectiveness of instruction
  6. Reduce support as students become more self-sufficient
  7. Continue building knowledge and skills, evaluate progress, and offer constructive feedback

Chunking Content

When instructors scaffold their content, they provide tasks that allow students to build on prior knowledge and internalize new concepts. To do this effectively, instructors should organize their content and instruction into meaningful units while providing their students with tools and structures for each chunk. What this means is that “how content is organized” and “where content is placed” inside a course can be every bit as important as “what the content is” in terms of fostering an effective learning and teaching environment. (taken from CIRT ID Process page written by Rozy Parlette)

To scaffold your course content, divide it into smaller, more manageable chunks. For instance, you would not want to present students with a short lecture and links to several scientific papers followed by a one-week deadline for a 10-page paper. Instead, you should present students with small amounts of material, followed by formative exercises, as you gradually allow them to take on more complex topics and engage in deeper learning. The primary advantage of this strategy is providing frequent and consistent feedback throughout the process. According to Caruana (2012), “A good rule of thumb is the higher the stakes, the more scaffolding you need to provide. In other words, the heavier the weight, the stronger the support.”

As you build your instructional content, think about how well you’ve prepared students for the task. Has the information you've provided been sufficient for them to accomplish the tasks to the standards you've set? Have you given students enough non-graded and practice tasks to gain mastery of the material? What questions are students asking about the material?

Scaffolding Strategies

Lesson Planning
  • Determine students’ prior knowledge
  • Chunk complex content or assessments
  • Utilize mini-lessons or assessments with regular check-ins
  • Use a Canvas course template to structure content into modules and pages logically
  • Provide students with UNF resources such as SASS and the Writing Center

Instructional Strategies
  • Make sure learning objectives are available for students
  • Review learning objectives with students and assist them with goal creation
  • Encourage students to use and expand upon their prior knowledge
  • Model skills that you want to see in students
  • Assign students to work in pairs or groups
  • Provide students with guided instruction
  • Utilize graphic organizers and key content note
  • Offer synchronous study sessions on Zoom
  • Share examples and non-examples

Progress Monitoring
  • Provide students with timely and specific feedback
  • Implement regularly scheduled formative assessments to gauge student progress
  • Provide students with opportunities for self-assessment and reflection
  • Give students practice problems with answers thoroughly explained
  • Modify teaching based on assessments results



AI/ChatGPT Best Practices

High-Level Tips

  1. Explore the literature regarding AI’s use in educational assessment and consider its advantages and limitations.
  2. Share your AI usage policy with students in your course syllabus and assignments.
  3. Develop authentic assignments to demonstrate how AI can be an aid or a liability to student learning.


The integration of technology in educational pursuits is a phenomenon that has been around for a while. However, recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) advancements have created new possibilities for enhancing educational experiences. ChatGPT, an AI text generator, is a powerful tool that the AI community has developed, and its potential use in education deserves investigation. This resource focuses not on the ethical or administrative concerns surrounding AI in education but on how ChatGPT and other AI applications can be utilized as an educational aid in academic courses. Some of the most popular AI tools available are ChatGPT (text generator), Dall-E2 (graphics generator), Pictory (video/narrator generator, editor), Grammarly (writing assistant), and (audio/video transcription). These are just a tiny sample of the AI tools readily available and primarily free that you and your students can examine.

This best practices page will provide creative ideas and resources to support your journey in evaluating and applying Open AI Chat GPT in your activities and assessments.

Best Practices

Incorporate AI into your assessments.

AI can be incorporated into your assessments. One example is to use ChatGPT to allow students to practice editing other’s work. ChatGPT can be given a prompt to write an essay then students can review the AI-generated writing and suggest improvements and check the information for accuracy (Mollick & Mollick, 2023). Another example might include requiring students to use the tool to perform a task related to current or future work in the field. Have them experiment with ways that they might use this tool in practice. Take a look at two examples of activities from the field of education that incorporate this approach. Try the tool out yourself with your assignments to discover what can and cannot be done with it. If you choose to use AI in your course, provide AI tool training and tutorials to students. Good prompts and often refined prompt commands give better outcomes. AI can also be utilized to design your assessments. For example, ChatGPT can be used to generate a list of discussion prompts for a course, create a set of problem-solving exercises, and even develop rubrics for grading assessments. View more examples of how ChatGPT can be used for assessment in Enhancing Teaching and Learning.

Use authentic or scaffolded assessments in your course.

If you choose not to use AI in your course, create assessments that focus on the process of learning rather than assessments that use a single measure of learning, like a multiple-choice quiz. Open-ended questions asking students about their perspectives and requiring them to provide supporting evidence can prevent cheating with AI tools. Other assignment types, such as case studies, real-world scenarios, and project-based learning, discourage the use of ChatGPT, as students have to actively apply concepts to various situations and create unique responses. Take a look at several examples of these types of assignments that were generated with the assistance of ChatGPT. (Open up the accordions on this page to view specific examples of assignment instructions). Collaborative activities, such as group projects or peer critiques, can also discourage the use of ChatGPT. If using assessments like multiple-choice quizzes, consider setting a time limit asking questions that require students to analyze the content. For more information about authentic assessments, see the assessment tabs above.

Have a clear AI policy in your course/syllabus.

Craft an AI policy to clarify your expectations. State if and when AI tools can or cannot be used on your course assessments. Remind students that AI can provide unreliable, false facts, and biased responses. All facts garnered from AI tools require verification, so citation of AI-generated tools should be encouraged. For more information on syllabi and their requirements, visit the Office of Faculty Excellence’s Syllabi page.

Explicitly state your AI academic integrity policy.

Be clear regarding using AI ethically and responsibly. Explicitly state to students that AI usage must be cited. Explain how you want students to acknowledge the use of AI and what information they need to cite. For more information, visit the UNF Academic Honesty policy.

Try ChatGPT yourself.

One study cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that using ChatGPT frequently makes you more likely to spot AI-generated assessments. ChatGPT has its own “voice,” so it can be recognized by readers who are familiar with it. For example, ChatGPT may write answers that sound correct but are actually factually incorrect. It is recommended to try the tool to see how it responds to your assessments. You can read more about the study and its findings in What can you learn from students about ChatGPT.

How to Harness ChatGPT for the Classroom

ChatGPT has the potential to be used as a powerful tool to support your work in the classroom with students. However, the most challenging hurdle for many instructors is learning to frame your prompts to generate the most relevant and practical resources. The more detailed and specific you are with your requests, the better the output that ChatGPT will generate.

Consider using the following resource, which contains access to numerous sample prompts for ChatGPT (or other similar AI tools) that you can edit and use to refine your teaching practice: ChatGPT in Higher Education: Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education.

  • See the chapter Enhancing Teaching and Learning for several assessment examples using ChatGPT, like generating study materials, creating discussion prompts, developing rubrics, and supporting active learning (ChatGPT in Higher Education).
  • In addition, the chapter ChatGPT-Proof Your Course contains suggestions and prompts that can help to design assignments that are less likely for students to use AI tools to cheat.
  • This semester at UNF, a forward-thinking communications faculty member has introduced an innovative assessment incorporating ChatGPT. In the first part of the assessment, students are tasked with generating the text for their blog posts using ChatGPT while properly attributing the AI text generator. To further enhance their learning experience, students must keep a log of the questions they ask ChatGPT and its responses. In the second part of the assessment, students will discuss their experience with ChatGPT and debate the merits of integrating AI technology into higher education.
  • For additional examples, see Using ChatGPT for Assignments: Tips & Examples and these Assignment Ideas.
  • Review the assessment tabs above for more detailed information on creating authentic assessments to improve academic integrity.