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Ditch the Final Exam! Why? How?

Part 1: Stefania Pizzirani

Over the next few weeks we will introduce you to five faculty champions from the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) who ditched their final exams for alternative assessments. They will tell you why they did it, and how! 

By Claire Hay and Helena Prins

But first, some context.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pivot to online learning, UFV’s Teaching and Learning Centre (like many TLCs across the country) has been supporting faculty in the world of online learning. Part of that support has been in the development of alternative assessment opportunities to move faculty and students away from traditional exams that now needed to be delivered in the online world. In a survey of UFV faculty (49 per cent response rate) in the fall 2020 semester, approximately 40 per cent of respondents said they were not using final exams, indicating a significant uptake in alternative assessment opportunities. UFV’s Teaching and Learning Centre, with support from its learning designers and teaching and learning specialists, worked with faculty to design assessment activities that would assess student learning in non-traditional ways. Although there was a movement to alternative assessment, how faculty recreated their final assessments varied widely, as did their motivations for doing so. In this series we will explore various options for adopting alternative assessments from faculty at UFV.

Our first story comes from Stefania Pizzirani. Stefania replaced her high-stakes final exam with two quizzes that are open book and offline, with 12 hours to complete them.

Stefania Pizzirani is an assistant professor in the School of Land Use and Environmental Change at UFV. She recently completed a Mitacs Elevate–funded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Her research involved participatory collaboration with a First Nation community with a goal of innovative and progressive housing solutions. Additionally, she completed a PhD in life cycle management in New Zealand that focused on exploring alternative forestry practices and wood-based products to help Māori achieve their aspirations.

For Stefania, COVID-19 was the catalyst needed to drop final exams in her courses. She noted in the past that traditional exams led to increased anxieties and often to memorization as opposed to deep learning. Were exams really helping students to learn and understand concepts? Since student autonomy is very important to her, she created a pre-class survey for students that asked their input on whether they would like two quizzes or one final exam. Guess what the majority chose? 

Stefania takes an empathetic approach to assessment. The two quizzes are open book, and students are given 12 hours to complete them. Recognizing bandwidth limitations for some students, she emails the assessment as an attachment; students do not need to be online to complete it. The two quizzes did not increase her workload; they just brought grading into the main semester rather than in the exam period after the semester. This also relieves pressure from students during the exam period; they can focus on other courses with exams or move onto other responsibilities. 

Stefania chooses to reimagine education and considers her students in all her decision making. 

Listen to her story:

Top tips from Stefania’s story:

  1. Launch a pre-class survey to determine needs and assessment preferences.
  2. By giving choice, you are giving students autonomy.
  3. Breaking down high-stakes exams into smaller quizzes decreases student anxiety.

Inspired to re-examine your exams? Take the FLO Bootcamp Alternative Assessment Challenge!

Do you have a success story of using alternative assessments to replace the high-stakes final exam in your course? Want to share your story? We invite you to contact Helena Prins, advisor, Learning and Teaching, at BCcampus.

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