What is alternative assessment?
Alternative assessment is a different form of assessment to more traditional tests. The general philosophy behind it is to give learners the opportunities to show what they can do rather than highlighting their shortcomings. Assessments usually are structured around authentic tasks that provide learners with the opportunity to show their abilities. They are often used in speaking classes where learners are given the opportunity to focus on communication rather than correct or incorrect answers. In these classes, learners also have the opportunity to assess themselves and their peers. For this reason, it is thought that they work better in a more learner-centered classroom.
Incorporating alternative assessment into a presentation class
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to incorporate alternative assessment with a class of freshman university learners. The course was a business English presentation class of approximately 20 learners. The course was brand new and I wanted to try out a different form of assessment. The criteria for the course were that it should have a business theme but also aim to encourage communication and be structured to improve the learners speaking skills.
Building the course
I began by developing the syllabus and decided that grading would be split three ways. I would assess each task but the learners would also assess themselves and their peers. These three grades would then be combined to create their overall score. There would be no mid-term or final test but instead I would introduce the idea of alternative assessment gradually and weigh the scores accordingly. In other words, the first few assessments would be much lower-stakes as the class got used to the process of assessing themselves and their peers.
Creating the rubric
I opted to use a simple multitrait rubric. One that would simple enough for the learners to completely comprehend but still cover the areas I wanted them to work on. I also adapted each rubric to best suit the task. For example, one of the tasks was to choose a product they liked and used on a regular basis and create an elevator pitch for that product. For this rubric, they would be assessed items on such as quality of description, persuasion, and fluency. On their own self-assessment rubric there was also the opportunity to grade their own efforts.
Given that part of their grade would self-assessment, I decided to record each of the tasks and presentations they gave and upload the videos to an e-learning system my university was using. This proved to be rather time consuming for me and initially received mixed responses. The less confident learners in the class reported that they found it a little embarrassing watching themselves complete each task. However, the students with a stronger sense of self-efficacy reported enjoying watching the videos as they felt they could improve their future performances.
The less confident students were also a little stricter on themselves when it came to grading. A regret I have from the course is not doing some form of norming session at the start of the course where students would have the opportunities to grade videos of others doing various tasks. I think this would have been beneficial to many in the class and make the grading process a little less subjective.
The general feedback from the class at the end of the semester was good. As they gained confidence through the semester I gave them the freedom to think of and design their own tasks to do. We also did several tasks in pairs and in small groups. Common responses on the end of semester questionnaires I administered were that the learners perceived their speaking skills to have improved and had become less anxious as the semester had progressed.
Would I use alternative assessment again?
I would have to say yes. I found there to be many advantages to alternative assessment. First, the tasks were provided a realistic opportunity for communication and I enjoyed the focus on learner performance. I think it would be quite easy to align alternative assessment with your desired learning outcomes, in particular, in a higher-level communication class. However, building and managing the course was extremely time consuming and took a great deal of effort. Specifically, recording the tasks and uploading them for learners to do self-assessment was time consuming. In addition, I also found that the grading process was a little more subjective than a traditional exam. Overall though, I think it is well worth trying out alternative assessment.
Over to you! Have you ever tried alternative assessment? I would love to hear your views.