Teaching & Learning

Getting started with Alternative Assessments

Guidance on getting started with preparing alternative assessments at the University of Tasmania in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

direction arrows on path

Guiding principles for alternative assessment

The University of Tasmania recognises that any changes to existing assessment place extra pressure on both our students, and our staff. As a people-centred university, we encourage you to adopt measures that keep additional requirements to a minimum, and to bear in mind the wellbeing of both yourselves and students.

Some key recommendations for adapting your assessments:

  • Communicate and explain any changes to assessment to students and provide details of any expectations about equipment they should have access to.
  • Keep it simple: stick to low-tech and text-based systems or simple alternatives.  The more complex you make the assessment, the more opportunities there are for something to fail.

Proposed changes to assessment will need to be approved. There may be a greater opportunity to change the assessments for the next semester than is possible right now.

UTAS Assessment and Results Policy

The Higher Education Standards and the UTAS Assessment and Results Policy shape our usual approaches to assessment as well as choice of appropriate alternative assessments.

"Central to the University of Tasmania’s learning and teaching activities, this policy outlines our commitment to assess student academic work appropriately.

  • 1.1 Assessment will be designed to promote student learning.
  • 1.2 Assessment will be undertaken in a manner that is fair, transparent and equitable.
  • 1.3 Results will reflect student achievement against specified learning outcomes.
  • 1.4 Assessment will be regularly reviewed and enhanced.
  • 1.5 University decisions regarding assessment and results will be subject to review and appeal on grounds specified within relevant procedure.”

Principles of good assessment are also discussed on the UTAS Teaching and Learning page Choosing and Designing Assessment Tasks.

General Principles

The following recommendations are provided by the Irish National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education:

  1. Your starting point is the learning outcomes for the modules the alternative assessment should align with these outcomes.
  2. Ensure students have sufficient skills to demonstrate their learning. They should have an opportunity, where possible, to trial any unfamiliar method, without grading.
  3. Students should be given clear comprehensive instructions on all aspects of the operation and completion of the online assessment, including such information on the required file formats and the number of attempts allowed for that assessment component.
  4. Students should be informed of all changes to assessment methods.
  5. The alternative assessment should require an equivalent effort on the part of the student, estimated, for example, by student effort hours on the assessment task, length of time or word count.
  6. Be aware that some students for a variety of reasons may have challenges engaging with online assessment. These students should be encouraged to self-identify in advance so that individual arrangements can be made.
  7. Students’ work will need to be judged having regard to the unfamiliar teaching and learning context that students will have experienced.
  8. Existing assessment criteria/rubrics may need to be adapted to align with the alternative assessment. It is important that these revisions are shared with the students and are used to support inter-rater reliability of multiple graders. Bear in mind that other graders may require some guidance and upskilling.
  9. Ensure secure recording and storage of online assessments.
  10. To minimise concerns about academic integrity, consideration should be given to the design and implementation of the alternative assessment

Ensuring Equity

It is important to consider anything that may negatively impact your students’ ability to access or complete an assessment task.

Internet access

Not all students will have consistent, reliable access to a high quality Internet. Critique your assessment tasks and consider whether students require Internet access to:

  • do research to complete the assessment?
  • use online tools to do the assessment?
  • submit the assessment?[i]

Think about how to ensure students who have less than optimal internet access can complete the task. For example:

  • If students must access certain online resources during completion of a task, can you provide those resources in a downloadable format, so they can be downloaded in one sitting?
  • If students are asked to submit answers in a quiz or survey, what happens if they lose internet access while completing the task? Can you provide a downloadable and editable copy of the questions, and advise students to work offline, then copy their answers into the online form so they don’t lose all their working?


Some students will need very specific adjustments to enable them to have fair access to learning materials and assessments. Some ‘adjustments’ are always required, such as providing text alternatives to audio-visual materials. However, it is worth remembering that making materials and tasks more accessible usually makes them better for everyone. Quick information about making accessible documents, presentations, videos, etc can be found in the Accessibility section of the UTAS Teaching and Learning website.

Some of the key accessibility guidelines (for the web, but relevant beyond web documents) covered include:

  • Text alternatives are provided for non-text content
  • Content is easy to navigate
  • Readability of the content is good
  • Reasonable time is provided for access to content

Photo of someone working at their desk

Options for alternative assessments

This section provides some alternative assessment types, together with some important considerations.   Below are reasonable adjustments to be used in the current extraordinary circumstances. They will not necessarily replicate the original assessment tasks, but will give students some manageable alternatives.

Expand a section below to see alternative options you could use for each type of assessment, and how you can maintain standards as you make these changes.

Time-constrained unseen exams in invigilated exam rooms or in-class tests:

In-class presentations where students speak to an audience of their peers/others and are assessed not only on the content but also their presentation techniques:

Portfolio, logbook or assessment notebook:

Viva Voce exams, e.g. for oral assessments in language learning:

Participation in tutorials and workshops:

Lab work:


Peer assessments and support:

Face-to-face feedback:

Theatre, dance and other performances:

Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE) and test requiring students to demonstrate a range of skills:


a video call on a laptop

Examples of alternative assessments[iv]

There are many  assessment task designs that enable students to demonstrate learning in more depth than is possible in an exam. Expand each section for examples of different assessment tasks. The choice of appropriate assessment task depends on the learning outcomes you are trying to measure.

Expand a section below to see some specific examples of that assessment type.

Exploring understanding:

Involving students:

Getting creative:

Aiming for authenticity:

Ask students to write or present in a format that is relevant to the discipline or profession in which they’re learning. What does an authentic assessment look like for your discipline? Is it a position paper, pitch, hand-over notes, grant proposal, etc?

Bringing it all together:


A student working in their kitchen

General considerations

It is possible to produce alternative assessment designs that are equivalent to (and may even improve on) a current assessment. However it is important to remember that both staff and students may be working outside their comfort zones, and to proactively provide support to those struggling to adjust.

As with all forms of assessment, reasonable adjustments will still be needed for students with temporary or long-term health conditions, disabilities and additional needs.

Please bear in mind the need to clearly communicate expectations and,where possible, provide accompanying marking criteria and examples.

Further resources and discussion The University of Tasmania’s community of Educational Developers have provided answers to Frequently Asked Questions about technologies to support your students’ learning. They are also providing a curated list of links to resources. It is a good place to check if you have questions or are looking for further ideas.

2 people with a laptop

Professional learning

Resources and guides

Past webinars

  • On-line delivery MasterClasses were held through 2020. Staff can access recordings of past masterclasses.
  • Detecting and addressing contract cheating in online assessment (Wednesday 29th April 2020, 5-6pm)
    • The rapid pivot to online learning due to the COVID19 pandemic is seeing a significant shift in the mix of assessment modalities. This shift is seeing greater use of non-invigilated assessment with this there is the potential for an increase contract cheating activity. This session will explore research conducted into the practical steps that can be taken in up-skilling academic staff in detecting and addressing contract cheating in unsupervised assessment tasks.
    • Presenter: A/Prof Phillip Dawson, Deakin University, Australia. Host: Professor Geoffrey Crisp, DVC Academic, University of Canberra
  • Authentic online oral assessment - an examination replacement (Thursday 30th April 2020)
    • Concerns about academic integrity and student engagement have been tightened with the rapid COVID-19 induced shift to online teaching and the need to use alternate assessments to that of traditional exams. This session explores an approach to interactive online oral assessment can be used to create engaging, authentic assessment experiences for students. Interactive orals are especially useful in the current COVID-19 context because they can be conducted online and offer a viable alternative to exams. The session will explore examples from the Griffith Business School at Griffith University and data collected from students on academic integrity. The use of evidence-based assessment design has seen benefits in enhanced student engagement, employability and academic integrity in undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
    • Presenters: Danielle Logan, Popi Sotiriadou and Rae Jobst (Griffith University, Australia)
  • Three essentials in the move on-line (Wednesday 1 April 2020)
    • Supporting online teachers and students — Webinar series with NCSEHE Equity Fellows Dr Cathy Stone and Dr Nicole Crawford (UTAS).
    • The NCSEHE will partner with the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET) for two webinars presented by Cathy Stone and Nicole Crawford.
    • In these unfamiliar times, universities are suddenly needing to move face-to-face courses online. The presenters have previously written that this can be a tall order, even for experienced educators. However, including the “three essentials” that this webinar outlines means that even a hastily-developed online course can still deliver an effective and engaging learning experience for students.
    • With the need to quickly convert face-to-face classes, guidelines developed from recent Australian research can offer some direction. This webinar talks more about these three essentials and ways they can be delivered.


This advice is adapted from guidance provided by the University College London, and from the document by Sally Brown and Kay Sambell, Contingency planning: exploring rapid alternatives to face-to-face assessment.https://sally-brown.net/2020/03/13/assessment-alternatives-at-a-time-of-university-closures/ ; and by the Centre for Enhanced Teaching & Learning, University of New Brunswick, Canada.

Additional sources, as cited, include:

National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, "10 Points to Consider in Choosing Alternative Assessment Methods for the Online Environment," in teachingandlearning.ie, Published March 12, 2020, Last Accessed March 30, 2020, https://www.teachingandlearning.ie/resource/10-points-to-consider-in-choosing-alterative-assessment-methods-for-the-online-environment/.

Australian Collaborative Education Network Limited (ACEN) has information about alternatives to Work Integrated Learning.

[i] Gordon, D. T. (March 25, 2020). The Hitch-hiker's Guide to Alternative Assessment. Accessed at https://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=70651

[ii] Say, R., Betihavas, V., Visentin, D., & Minutillo, S. (2018, November). Designing low-fidelity simulation: A cognitive load theory approach. Paper Presented at the 17th Teaching Matters Conference, Pathways to Teaching Excellence, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia: University of Tasmania.

[iii] Cooper, J. F., Macartney, M. J., & Namasivayam, P. (2019, November). Improving recognition and application of clinical reasoning in nursing practice using a multi-modal simulation activity. Paper presented at 18th Teaching Matters Conference: Our distinctive future. Hobart, Australia: University of Tasmania.

[iv] Centre for Enhanced Teaching & Learning, University of New Brunswick, Canada. https://www.unb.ca/fredericton/cetl/_resources/pdf/alternatives-invigilated-tests-exams.pdf