5 Online Assessment Ideas for Your Science Course

Supriya Kamath
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As we enter a new year and a new semester, hybrid and remote teaching continue to be the preferred formats of instruction at many institutions around the world. Many instructors have begun embracing these models by building variety into the graded components of their course, experimenting with novel assessment methodologies in addition to examinations and essays. Creating innovative online assessments for a science course, however, can be particularly difficult, given the integral role of hands-on learning in science education. 

We spoke with different science instructors, who told us about online assessment methods and lab exercises they’ve utilized in their own courses. Here are 5 interesting ideas:

PechaKucha presentations

PechaKucha is a method of presentation in which 20 images are shown for no longer than 20 seconds each, accompanied by commentary by the presenter. Due to the photo-heavy format and time constraint, students are compelled to think critically and carefully about the material, how they can distill it into images, and how to explain their ideas succinctly. This method is particularly well-suited for online classrooms — it makes for a more engaging experience for the audience and saves time, allowing more students to present in a single class. 

Dr. Dawn Bazely

For instance, Dr. Dawn Bazely (University Professor in the Department of Biology at York University) had her students research the authors of published scientific papers she assigned to them, and give PechaKucha talks on their work. This also afforded Dr. Bazely an opportunity to integrate conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion into her course.

Journal manuscript preparation

In advanced science courses, students can be tasked with writing a ready-to-submit manuscript for a journal — this experience can be valuable for students to understand the various considerations involved in academic research and the publication process. Such a project can be carried out without access to the lab equipment; for instance, Dr. Carlos Goller (Associate Teaching Professor in the Biotechnology Program at North Carolina State University) had his students develop a proposal for an experiment using liquid handlers and write it out using the JoVE manuscript format, for potential publication as a JoVE video. 

“The format of JoVE articles requires researchers to research, write, and provide numerous details on the experimental methodology,” said Dr. Goller. “This aligned well with the goals for the course and my teaching philosophy to have students create resources that would benefit their career development and help other students.” You can read more about Dr. Goller’s lab project for his online, asynchronous biotechnology course here

Playlist-based exercises 

With JoVE access, you can create a custom playlist of JoVE videos for your science course, and you can also add paragraphs of text within the playlist’s title and label fields — this functionality can be used in creative ways to develop exercises for students. Instructors can group together videos within a playlist and add instructions for a task students must complete upon watching that subset of videos. 

Dr. Peter Dinér

For example, students may be required to watch three videos introducing different aspects of CRISPR — such as the concepts underlying this gene-editing technology and how it is implemented — and then compose a short paragraph on their key takeaways, research one of its applications, or write about three things that surprised them and three questions they still have about the tool. Or, as Dr. Peter Dinér (Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm) did in his organic chemistry course, students can be asked to create flow charts of the procedures demonstrated in the selected videos. Since a playlist can consist of multiple groups of videos, all of the video-based exercises for the course can be created in advance, and would be conveniently available to students all in one place. 

Lab reports using visual material

Can’t carry out lab experiments in person? Dr. Mary Morrison (Assistant Professor of Biology at Lycoming College) had her students write lab reports by examining fluorescent microscope images, obtained in a previous semester’s Immunology course. Using these, students were able to answer the questions drafted by Dr. Morrison and write a long-format lab report without access to a wet lab. 

In his chemistry course, Dr. Richard Jarman (Professor of Chemistry at the College of DuPage) had his students write reports using a JoVE video. “For one of the videos that very closely matched an experiment we would have done in lab, I had the students watch the video and then write a lab report based on the video incorporating introduction, experimental method and results section, as if they had done the experiment themselves,” he said. In addition, Dr. Jarman noted a finding about the quality of these reports, compared to those submitted in earlier, on-campus iterations of the same course — “I also found that the lab reports produced based on watching the JoVE video were superior to those produced by the students who actually did the experiment,” he said. 

Technology-focused, student-led projects

Prof. Peter Ronai

While the extensive use of digital technologies in the science classroom might be fairly new for some educators, many students today lead a digital-first lifestyle — Prof. Peter Ronai (Clinical Professor of Exercise Science at Sacred Heart University) suggests that early on in the semester, instructors can develop activities that allow students to capitalize on these skills and tools that are already familiar to them. Students could develop projects relevant to their course using Zoom, chat rooms or technologies that they enjoy working with. 

For instance, augmented reality smartphone apps like AcceleratAR, created by scientists at the University of Liverpool, can help students visualize how particle accelerators work using objects in their own environment. In her field ecology course, Dr. Dawn Bazely sent her students low-cost macro lenses that they could use to turn their smartphone cameras into dissecting microscopes. Arduino’s Science Journal app can also be used to make and record observations about sound, light, movement and more. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, the key to developing novel online assessment ideas is to consider how existing resources can be adapted in unique ways. As Dr. Carlos Goller notes. “I think we are all learning and, while experimenting with new technologies or ways of integrating resources can be intimidating, it offers opportunities to help our students learn, review, and make connections to content that we could otherwise not have made… even in person!”

If you would like to learn how to effectively incorporate JoVE video resources into your hybrid, remote, or in-person science course, request a free consultation from our Customer Success team.