From CAT: What about finals?

This message to all faculty, deans, directors and department heads has been approved by Dr. Sally McRorie, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Since this semester already seems to have lasted several years, it may be difficult to remember what we originally expected our students would learn by the end of the term. Before we were derailed by a pandemic, we had high aspirations for how our courses would help our students to develop intellectually, professionally, and personally. While we hope we have preserved their learning experiences to a considerable degree, when we sum up this extraordinary spring term, we have to be both humane, and realistic. Students are grappling with challenges both emotional and logistical.

The final exams and projects we had originally envisioned are probably not going to work in the current circumstances. Many of our students may have to use shared computers or their phones to take exams; they may be sitting in the parking lot at a local business to use the Wi-Fi. The exams and projects we’d already designed may no longer reflect the learning students have done, in this disrupted and scaled-back term. Or perhaps it’s simply impossible for your students to give a recital or exhibition.

The purpose of any assessment is to collect evidence of students’ progress toward the learning goals in the course, so we have to determine the most sensible and humane way to do that under these exigent circumstances. How can students best show you what they have learned, or can now do, or now believe because they took your course? When you’ve decided what that looks like, the next priority is to communicate with students early and often so they know how to prepare and what to expect. You can also remind them that this Sunday, April 12, is the deadline to make a decision about taking the course S/U and help them think about the impact of the exam on final grades.

Here are some approaches you might consider:

  1. Revise the final exam. When you had to move your course online unexpectedly, you may have prioritized some aspects of the course and eliminated others. It’s essential to review the final exam to make sure the questions still align with what students had an opportunity to learn in the course. This may involve revising, replacing, or deleting some questions.
  2. Rethink the final exam. You might be concerned about letting your multiple-choice questions out onto the internet, or the questions themselves may not seem to make sense in this environment. There are many reasons why you might consider switching to an “open-book” exam, where you can ask the type of questions that the internet can’t answer. (Of course, if you’re moving to challenging higher-order questions, it’s essential that students have opportunities to practice this type of thinking before the final.) Some faculty have decided to give essay exams, in which students can reflect on and demonstrate what they’ve learned and how they plan to apply the concepts in the future and grade them for completion.
  3. Revise the final project. If the shift to remote teaching caused you to redesign your course (e.g., change priorities, assignments, activities), you may need to revise or rethink the final project. You may need to adjust the task itself—what you are asking students to do, create, perform, etc.—the evaluation criteria, or both. We can only expect students to be able to do things that they have had an opportunity to learn and practice, so adjusting the evaluation criteria might look like revising, replacing or deleting certain criteria, or changing the weights of the criteria on a rubric, or both.

Once you’ve decided what strategy for measuring students’ learning is most appropriate, it’s important to help students get ready. More than ever, they’ll need a clear sense of what they’re expected to demonstrate or accomplish, and practice to help them prepare. Communicating with students can be a challenge right now, so it will be useful to be intentionally redundant, using many avenues of communication and making each task, its purpose, and the expectations as transparent as possible.

And if any of your students lack access to necessary technology, please steer them to Case Management. The university has invested in laptops, webcams, and other devices for students who lack these tools.

As you finalize your plans, please avoid:

  1. Expecting students to use tools or materials they don’t readily have at home. Of course they don’t have lab materials or oil paints at home, but each discipline probably has less obvious “equipment” we take for granted. If you’re not sure whether they have what they need, a survey might help you collect information.
  2. Penalizing students who can’t take an exam during the scheduled time. Many students have changed jobs or have assumed child-care duties, or may have sick family members.
  3. Penalizing students who, for reasons outside of their control, need to turn in a final project late. 
  4. Penalizing students who may not have reliable internet connectivity or access to equipment. Tests, projects or other activities requiring access to systems such as, Honorlock or myFSUVlab may be difficult for some students to complete or will put them at a disadvantage. Be prepared to offer a means of accommodating students who may not have the equipment or resources necessary for the assignment.

If you made a change to your plans for the final exam or project in your course, and you and your students are happy with it, please share your ideas with us! If you’d like to talk through your ideas about your final exam or project or you’d like support as you revise, please reach out to We look forward to working with you.