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When we talk about alternative assessments, we are talking about those types of assessments that demonstrate proficiency often over time. Multistage papers and projects, portfolios and multimedia projects are all types of assessments that fall into this category. For any alternate assessments, special care must be taken to encourage that the instructions and evaluation criteria are communicated to the learners with absolute clarity.

These Guidelines for Planning Alternative Assessments are a great place to start when thinking about alternative assessments.


  • They provide a means of assessing skills and performance that cannot be directly assessed with high-stakes testing.
  • They provide a context usually based on application and analysis, as opposed to the one-time performance context of traditional tests.
  • They focus on the quality of work performed by learners.
  • They can be directly mapped to higher-order learning outcomes.
  • They allow learners more flexibility in how they demonstrate their mastery.


  • Grading these assessments can be more challenging because the focus is often on the process as opposed to the product.
  • Creating these assessments can sometimes be costly in terms of time, effort, equipment and materials.
  • Because they often require more creativity, learners can become anxious without a mapped-out process to follow.

Paper and project drafting

One method of evaluating at the process of creation along with the product is by turning a paper or project into a more formative assessment with a series of drafts or peer reviews. The idea is that instead of a final paper or project, the learners have a series of milestones they have to meet as they are creating their paper/projects. Practically speaking, this gives the learners more opportunities to get feedback to improve their work, along with accountability in delegating more time to the creation process. On the instructor side, it means the final products are likely to be of better quality requiring less time to grade. Some options for those milestones could be a working draft, peer review and final version.

Working draft

For this stage, learners would be asked to outline all sections of their work (lit review, methods, conclusions, etc.) and fill them in with draft-quality details. The reader should be able to get a general overview of the arguments the learner is making. 

For this part, instructors can:

  • Focus on giving thematic feedback as opposed to grammatical corrections in order to help the learners write strong arguments that stay on task. This is the time to clear up any misunderstandings of the assessment and get the learners moving forward.
  • Consider giving video feedback to speed up the process.
  • Grade this work as complete/incomplete.

Peer review

A peer review is when a learner evaluates another learner’s performance for the purpose of providing constructive criticism aimed at helping their fellow peer improve their work. This also gives learners the opportunity to learn from each other about structure, methodology and making persuasive arguments.

For this part, instructors can:

  • Give reviewers specific criteria or a detailed rubric to help guide peer feedback. Many learners have yet to be taught how to give constructive feedback to a peer, so use this as an opportunity to teach them how to approach this task.
  • Setting up reviewers and reviews can be partially automated through Canvas’s Peer Review tool.
  • For a metacognitive extension, have the learners review the feedback they receive and write a quick reflection on what they will and will not change going forward.
  • This can be a graded assignment or another complete/incomplete assignment.

Final version

Just like the name states, this is the final version of the learner’s project or paper. This is the summative version of the assignment. By the end of the drafting process, learners should be able to submit stronger final versions of their papers and projects. 

For this part, instructors can:

  • Give summative-style feedback as the time for revision and correction has passed.


A portfolio is a collection of artifacts (writing examples, illustrations, multimedia projects, etc.) that document learning over time. Components of the portfolio are often smaller assignments throughout the course, with the collection and explanation serving as the more cumulative assessment. But a portfolio shouldn’t just be a collection of things. To get the most benefit from the process, learners should be given the opportunity to revise pieces and reflect on the choices they made regarding what was included in the portfolio and why those items fit the purpose.

Much like a teaching portfolio, a portfolio assignment should have a defined purpose and audience. For example:

  • A writing portfolio written for the instructor that gives examples of the learner’s writing and explains how their style, process and skill have evolved throughout the course. This could look like an edited collection of writing examples.
  • A professional portfolio designed to give potential employers evidence regarding the skill set a learner can demonstrate along with their philosophy of work. This could look like a website built around a personal branding approach.
  • A multimedia portfolio that offers different types of digital products, each with its own constraints and messaging targets for recruiting clients. This could be a short video or a series of videos designed to close the sale.

Instructors will need to give the learners clear criteria for what components (or types of components) need to be included in the portfolio, what types of revisions are expected and the criteria for evaluating the portfolios. 


In a traditional classroom, the instructor might assign a major paper or report to be completed and submitted according to specific stylistic requirements (e.g., APA, Chicago Manual of Style). Sometimes remote students do not have access to a computer to complete this assignment. 

This is why allowing multiple submission options are important. For instance, students can create a podcast or a video with their mobile phones to demonstrate they have achieved the assignment goals. Two minutes of video/audio is comparable to one APA-formatted page with 12-inch font, double spaced, one-inch margins on all sides.


VoiceThread is an online tool that engages students and online presence. Instructors and students can interact with one another asynchronously to comment on or create presentations using images, PowerPoint, Google Slides, YouTube videos, audio/video files, PDF, or any other file format. Comments can either be made using a microphone, webcam, text, phone, or mobile app.

Final student presentations using VoiceThread

One option for a final assessment is an individual or group presentation. To set this up in your Canvas course, add VoiceThread as an external tool to your module. Once you click on this new VoiceThread link, you will be presented with three option buttons; select Course View. In the Course View, groups or individuals can create a VoiceThread presentation. 

Group VoiceThread assessment: 

  • For this final group project, the instructor needs to select a group facilitator to be the one to upload the group's completed slide deck.
  • Please consult the following sample directions on how a group facilitator might function in this evaluation.
  • This assessment also may incorporate a self- and peer review mentioned above to ensure that each member is held accountable.

Individual VoiceThread assessment:

  • If the instructor wants to assign an individual VoiceThread final presentation, students can follow these directions used in the group assignment.
  • The most important part of these steps is to share the VoiceThread with the class and instructor.

Creating TED talks

To demonstrate how students have integrated subject matter into their lives, have them create their own TED talk. Also, this demonstrates how they have integrated the course goals into their lives. 

Sample lesson

Everyone, or almost everyone, has seen or heard of a TED talk. According to the TED website: "TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages .... In fact, everything we do is driven by this goal: How can we best spread great ideas?" 

You have a great idea about education or one of your own passions. Prensky stated once, "Students often complain that too many of their teachers should know what their students' passions are and help those students approach their school subjects through the lens of those passions."

This is your chance to share your great idea or passion with us in a video between 7–10 minutes. Please use whatever device in which your recording will have the best video and sound quality. Do please prepare a script and practice before you deliver the speech. Again, please practice. 

To get you started, please consult this Forbes article which might give you some good ideas: 5 Quick Steps to a Killer TED Speech

When you are finished with your video, please upload your video and script to the shared Google Drive folder called TED Talks. Once you access the shared Google Drive called TED Talks, you will see a list of folders with names in the folder title. Please upload your video or video link and script to your individual folder. Here is the link to access the TED Talk folders: <Insert Google Drive folder link>


Infographics—or information graphics—are visual representations of data, information or knowledge that tell a story through visual communication. They are effective tools to communicate complicated data demonstrating their sum knowledge learned in the course. 

Infographics can be short and to the point, as the following:


Or they can be long and include LOTS of information demonstrating student learning, as in this infographic about High Blood Pressure Control.

But the one thing infographics have in common is that they are a great way to convey key messages and learned course material. 

Example of an infographic showing data of drug resistant tb

Getting started

This Infographic Planning Worksheet (from the University of North Carolina Health Sciences Library) will help you think through the design of your infographic.

Brainstorm Topic

  • What do you want your audience to know?
  • What data would help you share this information?

Find and examine data

  • What kind of data do you want to share? From where?

Define purpose

  • What kind of story or argument do you want to make with your data?

Find Models

  • What look and feel do you want your infographic to have?
  • Canva has tools and templates. You could also develop it as a PowerPoint slide.

Decide on visualizations

  • What's the best way to show your data? You can use graphics, charts, icons ... the list goes on! See 33 Ways to Visualize Ideas.

Tips & tools

  • Adequate use of color, design and space
  • Think about the layout of your infographic; all text and images need space between them so your audience can read it.
  • Where do you want your viewers to look first? Consider using an asymmetrical design or bold text to create a focal point.
  • Pick a color palette of three to five colors. Too many can be distracting.
  • Information and messages adequately support the purpose of the visual
  • Free of grammatical errors
  • Words are legible and pertinent to the topic
  • Citations included (You may use footnotes for this)

Tools for creating infographics

Canva resources

PowerPoint resources and templates

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The Keep Learning website will be retired on January 31, 2022. Please update all of your bookmarks and links to point to our new website,

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