When the Stakes are High (Part 1): Creating the Assessment

Community Member
4 0 707

The end of the school year is in sight, we can almost see it, just beyond that final assessment period!  Amidst the current context of COVID-19, where we are utilising online tools to enable teaching and learning more than ever,  we may need to take a different route to get there to the one we had planned.

The purpose of this blog is to support you with running online assessments in Canvas. In this Part 1 we’ll look at Creating the Assessment, and in the following Part 2 we’ll look at Facilitating the Assessment.   Wherever your starting point, from making a few adjustments to previous assessment periods, through to upscaling your entire assessment process to online for the first time, we hope this blog will provide you with helpful best practices, practical tips, and considerations to ensure your assessments run smoothly in Canvas. 

Consideration 1: Ease of Access

The workflow for students to access their assessments should be clear and easy.  We want students to be focusing on the assessment itself, and a logical navigation, simple presentation, and well chosen functionality is going to support this. 


Where will you place the assessments? One option could be to add them to a new Module, placing the assessments in the same Course as the teaching and learning occurred.  This could be further signposted by moving the Module to the top of the Module list, or even linked to within an Announcement (particularly useful when combined with the setting that shows recent Announcements in the Course Home Page).

346990_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.03.45.png

Alternatively, you could create a new Course purely for assessments.  This could include only the assessments for a particular course, or if students are taking multiple Courses across the institution (for example as part of a larger programme of study), they could be coordinated into a singular assessment Course.  This could provide a secure assessment space for access to and storage of assessment artefacts (should that be required as per any existing policies).  Students would then navigate to the assessment Course from their Dashboard, and a Global Announcement could be used to signpost this workflow to all Students.

 347009_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.08.10.png

There are other important considerations beyond a streamlined workflow that should be taken into account when deciding on where to place your assessments:

  • Consistency - if Students and Teachers are participating in multiple Courses, navigation to assessments should be consistent across these.  
  • Communication - decide how will you let your Students (and Teachers / Graders) know where to find their assessments.
  • Grading - ensuring those involved are able to access the assessments and complete their workflows.
  • Existing Integrations - if you have any automations for creating assessments, enrolling users, or data extraction, these will of course need to be considered.


As with all assessments, there will be information that you need to share with your students to ensure they are able to complete the assessment effectively.  If your students are going to need access to a resource during an assessment (for example a case study, an article, or a video demonstration), consider embedding this directly into the Rich Content Editor.  This allows the students to access all assessment content in one page, minimising navigation and allowing them to spend more of their time on the assessment itself over navigating between different items.

347016_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.17.04.png

Rubrics provide an effective way to present your expectations for the assessment to students.  As well as supporting the grading process, Rubrics are visible to students as part of the Assignment or Quiz information both before and during the assessment.  This allows Rubrics to be used as an opportunity to present your expectations, guiding your students to meet the assessment criteria as best as they can before they submit the assessment.


347011_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.22.14.png


Assignments and Quizzes are two tools with functionality that support assessments.  Choosing the appropriate tool and enabling the required functionality that best meets your needs is a key component of successful assessment preparation.  Canvas has the functionality, your responsibility as a teacher or decision maker is to choose the right tool and settings that provide the required opportunity, along with as clear and simple workflow for students as possible. This leads us on to Consideration 2...

Consideration 2: Which Assessment Tool to Use?

The primary assessment tools in Canvas are Assignments and Quizzes Assignments allow students to submit artefacts that teachers can then grade and give feedback on.  Quizzes allow students to answer questions, with the additional functionality of being able to automate the grading and feedback workflow.  With this baseline functionality, there are many ways that each tool can be utilised to provide agency for a variety of assessment formats.

Assessments with specific File Types to Submit 

Perhaps you want your students to submit a particular file type - a PDF, a Word document (doc, docx), or an Excel spreadsheet (xls, xlxs) for example. If so, have Canvas carry through this requirement for you.  By restricting the file upload type, students will only be able to upload the file types that you allow. Reinforcing your expectations while preventing your students from making accidental uploads of incorrect file types.

Assessments with Multiple Artefacts to Submit 

We may need to ask students to provide multiple artefacts as part of the same assessment.  For example, a Music student may need to submit an audio file along with a pdf of the score, a Business student may need to submit a portfolio of case studies, or an Apprentice may need to provide a combination of video and written evidence from a work placement.  There are different options to consider here to facilitate an assessment with multiple submissions required:

 347012_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.24.32.png

  • When a variety of ‘Submission Types’ is required, the preferred workflow may be to Duplicate the AssignmentEnabling the relevant Submission Type in each Assignment and using a clear naming convention will support your students to understand what is required for each Assignment.  This option may be preferred for assessments that require video as part of their submission, as the video can be embedded and therefore previewed in the SpeedGrader for ease of grading workflows. It can also allow for a different Rubric and/or grading schemes per submission, should that be of use in the grading process.

347013_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.28.06.png

  • Quizzes also can also be used to allow for submission of multiple artefacts.  Using a combination of Essay and File Upload question types, a question can be added for each artefact required.  This can provide a clear framework for students, and Quiz functionality such as adding a time limit to the attempt may be beneficial.  However, do consider the implication on the grading process, as the SpeedGrader has less functionality when Files are uploaded via a quiz.

Assessments usually taken on Paper or presented to a Panel

There are, and always will be, aspects of assessment that do not easily translate to an online format.  In Mathematics, the ‘workings out’ are often more important than the final answer itself.  For language, we need to assess the spoken as well as the written technique.  Or in Performing Arts, demonstrating a specific skill visually is often required.  For these cases, remember that Canvas can just as easily accept media submissions.  Using the ‘Text Entry’ submission method,  photographs, voice recordings, and videos can easily be submitted from the browser on a laptop or even the app on a mobile phone.

For assessments usually taken as a formal exam, there are many settings within Quizzes that can be used to manage the student experience.  In particular, you may wish to consider adding a time limit, multiple attempts, showing one question at a time, locking after answering, and when the students will be able to see the correct answers.

347014_Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 15.28.54.png 

Consideration 3: Accommodations for Students 

When conducting assessments there is often a need to differentiate the experience to make sure that all students have fair access.  For all assessments we can use the Assign To box to assign students with different availability dates, due dates, or different assignments entirely.  In Quizzes, we can also give additional time or attempts to individual students.  These accommodations should be set up before the assessments are accessible to students, to ensure that students are aware of the correct parameters pertaining to their own assessment experience.

Practice Makes Perfect!

One of my favourite tools in Canvas is the Student View as it allows us to view and experience our course as our students do.  In the case of assessments, this means that we can check the workflow for our students is logical, functional, and matches the intentions we had when we created the assessment.  Use the student view to test run your assessment, and remember there’s always the option to trial this in the test environment first if you’d prefer to keep content unpublished at this point.

These are just a few considerations and suggestions for Creating Assessments in Canvas.  Stay tuned for Part 2,  where we’ll take a look at Facilitating the Assessment.  

For now, we’d love to hear from you - what are your thoughts about these suggestions? What are your tips for managing assessments in Canvas?