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You have been teaching, but what have you been assessing? Can assessment also be about teaching? How do you know students have learned?

It is easy to forget that instead of being separate processes, teaching and assessment have a close relationship – they complement one another and comprise a holistic educational process. COVID-19 has prompted an increase in online interactions with our students. As a result, many educators have had to adjust their teaching and assessment strategies. In this article, we explore online activity-based assessment to support teaching and learning.

Assessment and Feedback

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of distance learning and emergency remote teaching during COVID-19 has been the aspect of assessment. In addition to putting your course materials online, you may have been anxious to confirm what students know, and demonstrate whether or not they have met curriculum outcomes. In other words your focus may have been on assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. We have heard of cases, for example, where students have been allowed back onto campus to do exams, with little or no support for learning in preparation for those exams. It is certainly not fair, reliable, or valid assessment practice to expect students to come and write an exam when they have not had the opportunity and support to work through the activities and content leading up to that exam. Some institutions have managed to implement some form of online learning. Often, however, this has taken the form of asking students to read a textbook and submit an assignment. This is not necessarily very helpful for students struggling in this environment.  

If learning is reduced and less meaningful, what are you assessing?

Stop worrying about testing and start thinking about learning

In a post on Inside Higher Ed, in response to the pandemic, Jody Greene writes:

'By attempting to replicate in-person assessments in online settings, we fail to recognize that a change of medium may require a change of design. Especially if your instruction is interrupted close to the time of finals … don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you can or should just “put the final exam online.” Sorting students and rigorously determining what deserves an A-minus as opposed to a B-plus may not be the most urgent business in the face of a global pandemic. … Think outside the parameters of your original assessments and ask the question, what can we do here that keeps learning happening? What if our first priority in an emergency is not completing testing but giving an opportunity for students to integrate and demonstrate their learning? ... Consult your campus disability resource center to make sure you maintain accessibility and equity.'

Challenge yourself to think about assessment differently. But how do you do that? There are two important considerations.

  • Learning is more important than assessing in this context.
  • Students need support and feedback

Support Learning

Give students something meaningful to do, preferably supported by communication with their peers and yourself as educator. Primarily the challenge is to find ways of introducing activities into the design of your materials. Rather than just reading text books, lecture notes, and PowerPoint presentations, ask students to critically engage with a reading, analyse case studies, create diagrams, tables or summaries, or conduct observations and interviews.

Students can also support each other. Encourage them to set up their own study groups, if necessary via WhatsApp or email. Build some kind of collaboration into the activities you set, creating and sharing the products of their studies, reflecting together and giving each other feedback.

Be there for students. Write your voice into the materials and engage in a written conversation with them. Ask questions and challenge students to respond in a variety of ways. Try to set times when students can contact you to ask questions and feel your presence, and clarify how they should do so. If you ask them to send you WhatsApp messages, make sure the messages come through, if you give them the option to email make sure you respond to the emails within the agreed turnaround time. It is frustrating for students to send messages or emails to which they never get responses.

Understand the value of formative assessment

Usually the focus is on summative assessment. This often takes the form of an assignment or a written exam after students have completed a section of work. Traditional summative assignments may be more challenging for online students, particularly. Online learning and assessment require more self-direction and self-motivation. Many students are still developing skills like time management. Most institutions have a Learning Management System (LMS), but, if your students only have intermittent access to the internet, they will not necessarily be able to do assessments online on your institution’s LMS.

Formative assessment is an activity, or set of activities, designed to support and enhance learning. It requires ongoing feedback to allow students to see their mistakes and fix them with guidance. This supports cognitive development. Once you have integrated activities into students’ learning, you have already begun to shift the focus to more formative kinds of assessment. An activity such as a quiz can be designed in a way that students engage with a base reading, do the quiz alone, and then compare their thinking with the feedback you provide. Provide written commentary on the activities against which students can check their own understanding. This can be followed up with a conversation between students about their responses. In this way, there is individual study, self-assessment, peer collaboration and formative assessment all built into one activity. This is learning and assessment.

As an exercise for yourself, consider each of the following statements. Are they true or false, in your view?

Note: Scroll down within the block below to complete all eight questions



All these strategies encourage communication, negotiation, and collaboration. Students use feedback they receive on their formative assessments to understand how well they have learned and where they need to focus to prepare for summative assessments. They are also motivated to continue engaging with the course.

Consider integrated summative assessment

In a context where students are not face to face with you or each other, and do not have a reliable connection to the internet, traditional summative assessments can be more challenging.

Summative assessment does not have to be an exam. The formative assessment activities that you have built into your design can form an important part of an integrated summative assessment strategy. Rather than a single exam, consider an assessment strategy that consists of four tasks that build up to a final product, for example, each building on the previous one, improving each time based on the feedback you have provided in between.

This site offers some ideas for thinking about alternative assessment strategies that might suit your context.

Use feedback to build communication and collaboration into assessment

Feedback is probably the most important aspect of assessment in any teaching and learning situation. Feedback can help a student to feel more ‘present’ in a course, and to feel the presence of others more strongly.

Provide feedback that is useful, timely and helps a student to reflect and assess themselves, and is useful for improvement. Encourage students to reflect on each others’ work by inviting comment or asking a question in a chat forum or WhatsApp group, or by sharing their work and requesting an evaluation against agreed criteria. The University of British Columbia in Canada has developed a series of workshops for online teaching. They talk about what makes feedback effective and describe ideas for communicating feedback online. For a useful article  giving ideas about the nature and extent of constructive feedback, go to the OER Africa website.

Additional Resources

For alternative assessment ideas in higher education:

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What's New

Most research is only seen by a small number of specialists. Would you like to share your research with those who can use it directly? They can be teachers, policy makers, other stakeholders, or the media. In this post, we explore how you can make your work accessible to a wider audience and release it under an open licence.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Most research is only seen by a small number of specialists. Would you like to share your research with those who can use it directly? They can be teachers, policy makers, other stakeholders, or the media.  OER Africa has created a practical guide to communicating your research findings to a wider audience. In this post, we explore how you can make your work accessible to a wider audience and release it under an open licence.

The need to share scholarship openly

Most academics think that their research is important. Although they publish it in journals for others to read and build on, the reality is that academic journals are aimed at a specialised audience. Journal publication is important, but not necessarily sufficient. If you can find different ways to make your findings available, your research might be of value to a much wider variety of people, including local communities, who could use it to improve their lives, and policy makers, for whom it might provide useful evidence to inform their decisions. You could also help to generate trust in researchers, encourage public participation in important issues, and improve your own communication skills in the process. Professor Jerry John Nutor believes that: 

Research is meant to benefit society by raising public awareness and creating products and innovations that  enhance development. For research to serve its full purpose, the results must leave the confines of  research laboratories and academic journals.

If you find Nutor’s argument compelling, why not think about ways to make your research available and accessible beyond journal publication? In addition, when communicating your research, applying an open licence helps others to disseminate it further, without the need for permission from you.

Becoming a communicator of your research

Most research can and should be communicated to audiences beyond academia. One area of research communication which is developing into a field in its own right is that of science communication, and all researchers can learn from some of the methods that science communicators use to disseminate their research. SciDev.netexplains why accurately and clearly communicating science during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential. 
Here are some suggestions to consider: 

  • Identify the potential audiences for your research and the formats that they are likely to find most accessible. Producing a pamphlet for teachers to use in the classroom would look very different from making a short video for farmers to try out a new technique. Once you have identified your audience, you can plan how best to summarise your findings for them.
  • Decide on your key message/s. You are not writing a research paper; you need to decide what you want to tell your audience, and ensure that the message gets across to them early on in your communication. Using a message template can help you; tell your audience:
  • Here’s what we know.
  • Here’s what’s new.
  • Here’s why it matters.
  • Use plain language to write your blog, pamphlet, or other communication. Your audience will not want to read jargon or academic writing; it will want to understand your research quickly and easily. Good advice about writing in plain language can be found here.
  • Apply an open licence to the new communication you have developed to make it easier for others to share and use. The advantages and types of Creative Commons open licences are explained here.
  • Depending on your audience, you may want to translate your new communication into another language.
  • Decide where to disseminate the communication you have developed.

Where can you publish your communication?

It is best to start with familiar, local possibilities. These might include a website or newsletter of your own research group, department, or faculty. You could also contact NGOs or local community organisations related to your research to see if they would like to publish your piece. Your institution may have a communications department with which you could work to write a press release or similar.  You can also approach your radio stations or newspapers, particularly those that broadcast or publish in local languages that reach a broad audience.
Further afield, there is no one-stop-shop for finding examples of good research communication, but the following sites provide examples of research transformed for non-academic audiences. They are all openly licenced or have an option to publish with a Creative Commons licence. For these sites, you will need to learn how to pitch a story to the editors (i.e. ‘sell your story idea’) before you write it. For any of these, you can also publicise your piece using social media. 

  • The Conversation is a good example of a forum that many academics use to publish their research for non-specialists to read. The site includes opinion pieces and other issues as well as research findings, and is available in English and French.
  • Although it is more journalism-focused, you can contact SciDev.net to pitch a piece of research reformulated as a story.
  • You can also create an entry (or edit an existing one) on Wikipedia once you register as an editor. It is available in several languages.
  • You can create a channel on YouTube, develop your own videos, and upload them as OER.

In summary, developing the skills of sharing your research more widely than traditional academia is well worth pursuing: it gets you more widely known as a researcher, while also enabling your findings to be used by practitioners, educators, and the general public.

With thanks to Dr Marina Joubert (Stellenbosch University) for advice on dissemination.

For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

In August, OER Africa introduced the Open COVID Pledge for Education, which was launched at the OER20 Conference earlier that month. OER Africa is proud to be a founding signatory of this Pledge, which encourages individuals and organisations to make their intellectual property available through open licensing arrangements to support educators, learners and decision-makers and assist educational organisations.

What is the Open COVID Pledge for Education?

In August, OER Africa introduced the Open COVID Pledge for Education, which was launched at the OER20 Conference earlier that month. OER Africa is proud to be a founding signatory of this Pledge, which encourages individuals and organisations to make their intellectual property available through open licensing arrangements to support educators, learners and decision-makers and assist educational organisations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, millions of learners and educational institutions globally have had to place greater reliance on digital communication and media in teaching and learning. The long-term effects of such shifts have yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that those most negatively affected will be learners in under-resourced environments, where access to high-quality educational resources, ICT, and learner support is often limited.

Developed by the Open COVID Coalition and hosted by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), the Open COVID Pledge for Education responds to this context by drawing from principles highlighted in the UNESCO Recommendation on OER (2019) and building on the Open Education values outlined in the Cape Town Declaration. It has been signed by representatives of many global Open Education Open Education bodies and professional organisations, universities, and individual researchers.

The Pledge asks that signatories commit to sharing Open Educational Resources (OER) for educators to support teaching and learning over the course of the pandemic. It also asks that signatories share practice and policy lessons, such as how individuals or organisations are responding to COVID-19 and what they are learning. In addition, the Pledge encourages signatories to share the following:

  • Open data, e.g. from surveys;
  • Open access research;
  • Unpublished research, organisational research, action research; and
  • Open source applications to support open education.

What has happened since the Pledge was launched?

Since its launch, two planning meetings were held online in September and October. These meetings produced an email discussion list, the Twitter account and hashtag, and an informative slide deck and logo. The team also conducted an open webinar in collaboration with the Open Education Special Interest Group to promote the Pledge.

UK-based members of the Open COVID Pledge for Education are currently developing two organisational case studies – one on University College London and the other on the University of Edinburgh – to showcase how they have released OER for educators as well as policy and research purposes under the Pledge. A keynote panel will be held on 15 December 2020 as part of the ALT winter conference, where the two case studies will be launched.

To date, there are 60 organisational signatories and 121 individual signatories and the project team welcomes new signatories.

How can I get involved?

The Open COVID Pledge ultimately aims to build a fairer and more resilient education system. It has been promoted using the @Covid_education Twitter account and #OpenCovid4Ed hashtag; through blog posts on the ALT blog; and on a public email list. You can become involved in the Pledge in various ways:

For more articles by OER Africa, click on the links below.

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to help to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

Image courtesy of opensource.com, Flickr

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November, 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

To help to unpack the possibilities, OER Africa has been facilitating a process to support UNESCO and its stakeholders to consider what actions they might take in each of the four key areas of the Recommendation:

  1. Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER;
  2. Developing supportive policy;
  3. Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; and
  4. Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER.
This work is being done with support and input from a Network of Open Organizations established by Open Education Global. Discussions are in very early phases but has so far led to development of a very detailed Matrix of possible actions to operationalize the OER Recommendation. The draft Matrix considers in detail all the Actions identified for each Area of Action in the OER Recommendation and lists possible initiatives that governments and institutions might take (analysed separately for each stakeholder group). It is a work in progress. A Working Draft of the OER Recommendation Actions Matrix can be downloaded as a PDF file here.
As OER Africa is committed to ensuring that the impact of the OER Recommendation is maximized for African governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders, we encourage you to review the draft Matrix and add your ideas and comments (editable version can be found here).
Additional suggestions of how African governments and institutions can be supported in adopting the Recommendations are most welcome. Please add these to the editable version.
Your feedback and suggestions will make the draft Matrix much stronger and useful to others. We anticipate that it might be used, amongst other purposes, to:
  1. Develop a catalogue of freely available online resources for each Area of Action that governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders can draw on for support.
  2. Create communications and advocacy resources, drilling into detail on specific aspects of the OER Recommendation to provide ideas on possible activities.
  3. Repackage content for governments and other audiences to explore possible actions and policy reforms that governments might consider when implementing the OER Recommendation.
We hope the draft Matrix is already a useful contribution to implementing the OER Recommendation. We will keep the document open for editing until 30th November, 2020.

For more articles in this series, click on the links below.