Ditch the Final Exam! Part 5: Keziah Wallis

If you missed the first three stories in this five-part series, you can find them here:  Part 1: Stefania PizziraniPart 2: RoseAnne Timbrell, Part 3: Michael Corman and Part 4: Amea Wilbur.

By Claire Hay and Helena Prins

Our final chapter in the Ditch your Final Exam series is the inspiring story of how Keziah Wallis used unessay-style assessments instead of a traditional final exam for her Anthropology course, allowing students to choose how they want to present their learning.

Keziah is a Māori anthropologist with whakapapa links to the Kāi Tahu iwi of the South Island of New Zealand. She completed her education at the University of Otago with a BA in Asian studies, a post-graduate diploma in film and media studies, and a PhD in social anthropology and religious studies. Before joining the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Keziah taught at both Otago University and Victoria University of Wellington in a variety of departments, including Social Anthropology, Religious Studies, Asian Studies, and Film Studies. As an Indigenous anthropologist, Keziah has a commitment to working toward decolonization of both teaching and research. Currently she is assistant professor of anthropology at UFV. 

Keziah has never liked exams — not as a student or an instructor. She doesn’t believe exams are the best way to test critical thinking. She provides students with choice and flexibility in how they demonstrate learning, and students are positively surprised by the choice available to them. With her goal to make learning and assessment meaningful to students, students produce high-quality work.

Keziah asked students to propose how they want to present their learning from the Anthropology course. She received a range of examples that varied from resource kits, video essays, and knitting patterns to traditional essays. She felt it was important to leave a traditional essay on the table for students to feel comfortable, given all the challenges the pandemic teaching environment already adds to their learning.

One of the biggest challenges for her as an instructor was creating rubrics for each style of presentation and to ensure they were comparable. When asked about the workload considerations for this approach, Keziah said designing a good exam to critically reflect  concepts is time consuming. She found that alternative assessment can ease her workload in some instances and decrease pressure. In fact, when she changed her assessment approach, she found a re-enchantment in teaching and discovered the joy of teaching again.

An important element of her assessment strategy is to include progress meetings instead of only typed feedback. One of her tips is to start with lighter grading and lots of feedback at the beginning and move toward harsher grading and less feedback near the end of the course. It is important to her to create opportunities for students to start working on their projects earlier and for instructors to provide formative feedback earlier in the process. Formative feedback makes grading easier.

Keziah will continue to experiment and explore alternative assessment approaches, and she hopes others will too.

You can listen to Keziah’s story here:

Top tips from Keziah’s story:

  1. When you design assignments, ask: “What do I want my students to get out of this course?”
  2. Open-ended assignments lead to creative and surprising results and learning.
  3. Designing a solid rubric ahead of time prevents wasting time on assessment.

Reconsidering your approach to assessment? 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.

Learn more:

© 2021 Claire Hay and Helena Prins. The feature image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels