Online Assessment from a STEM Faculty Perspective Part 2: Group Exams

Online Assessment from a STEM Faculty Perspective Part 2: Group Exams

By Dr. Sabine Lang and Lexi Schlosser, OTL Faculty Developer of Online Learning

Last week, we talked about oral exams as a means of assessment in online courses. This week, we want to introduce how group exams can be facilitated in the online learning environment. If you are interested in both increasing your student engagement and enhancing your online assessment strategies, consider how group exams could work in your course. Dr. Sabine Lang, from the University of Denver’s Mathematics Department offers group exams as an option in her Math 2060 (Elements of Linear Algebra) class.

The benefits to group exams may vary depending upon your course but overall group exams can provide many benefits to students. Kirkland (2017) talks about the impact students experienced by being able to collaborate with their peers to see different ways of reasoning and thinking about the course concepts. Some of the students surveyed reported that the group exam process allowed them to learn through teaching others as well as being taught by their peers (Kirkland, 2017). This type of collaboration exists in many post-college career fields and can be facilitated in the classroom while both providing rigorous learning opportunities and upholding academic integrity.

Lang’s students have the option to take one part of the midterm and final exams in small groups. After learning more about their benefits, outlined above, she started using group exams while teaching in-person classes and later adapted them for some online courses. This format works especially well for slightly more advanced classes, with the opportunity to give more complex problems to the students. In particular, asking exam questions that require more creativity in mathematics can be difficult, as it does penalize students who tried many strategies but did not find “the right idea”. By letting students work with their peers, more ideas are generated, and it is rare to have groups not finding a successful approach.

There are many practical aspects to consider when using group exams, such as group assignments, time constraints, or communication means for the students. For example, Lang chose to assign groups herself, and change the groups a few times throughout the quarter, to encourage students to work with several different people. Other logistical aspects can vary a lot depending on the class format. For in-person classes, a traditional assessment can easily be adapted by letting students collaborate in class, during exam time. In contrast, more careful planning is required in the online setting. During the Fall quarter, Lang gave take-home group exams. To make sure that students could work together, the exam was open for 3-4 days, and groups were set-up on Canvas, which provides separate discussion boards.

Thinking about adopting this approach? Here are a few additional considerations for online assessment:

  • Make the expectations clear to the students. If they are allowed to use resources, have time restraints, and/or are permitted to collaborate with their peers, all expectations should be communicated.
  • Think about implementing opportunities of formative assessment for students to self-assess their own understanding of the content. These self-assessments can be low stakes if associated with grading or optional opportunities of assessment.
  • Consider alternate forms of assessment to traditional online exams. Throughout this blog series, we highlighted several forms of assessment that can be administered in an array of course subjects, including the STEM field.
  • Ensure your assessments align with your course learning outcomes/objectives.
  • If you are going to administer online exams, consider more synthesis questions that require students to generate original work and fewer recall questions that can be searched online.
  • Use question groups in Canvas to randomize your exams for each student.
  • Consider the challenges and limitations of using Respondus Lockdown Browser, Monitor or Live Proctoring software.

Interested in learning more about how to enhance assessment and align with best practices of online assessment in your course(s)? Sign up for a one-on-one consultation with an Instructional Designer in our office or contact the


Fitzgerald, C. W. (2016). The pros and cons of oral examinations in undergraduate education. Center for Teaching Excellence, United Stated Military Academy

Kirkland, T. (2017). Want your students to learn more? Test them in groups!

Williamson, M. H. (2018). Online exams: the need for best practices and overcoming challenges. The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology. Vol. 10: Issue. 1. Article 2.

Wright, G. B. (2011). Student-Centered Learning in Higher Education. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Vol. 23. 3, 92-97.