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Online finals: Providing flexibility & opportunities for creativity

By Ileana M. Rodríguez-Silva, History

For last spring’s HSTLAC 289: The Cuban Revolutionary Experiment, I initially planned to offer a final exam, similar to the mid-term, but changed my mind. Instead, I asked my 26 students to do a final assignment. In the last week of class instruction, I made the final assignment optional in order to accommodate the needs of students impacted by the protests. Because I designed the class with a good number of short assignments, and because the mid-term exam went well, I felt comfortable making these changes.

The mid-term was a great success for the majority of students. The first part included a set of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true/false questions. The other half consisted of three short writing exercises where students were presented with a scenario to respond to. Using knowledge from the class, they had to go on a Twitter rant, write a film review for their student group blog, and compose a Facebook post. The exam was all on Canvas, open book, and not timed. Students had four days to finish it (so they could come in several times to address the different components of the exam).

The final was going to be the same, but honestly, we all were very tired. Earlier in the quarter, we had a very effective short assignment in which students crafted a quiz based on the assigned reading and then had a class peer answer it. Because students had more autonomy, they engaged with the material differently. Inspired by that experience, I shifted the final exam to a final assignment.

The final assignment prompted students to pretend to be a TA for an upcoming study abroad program taking a group of Environmental Studies undergraduates to Cuba for two weeks. They were asked to create a one-hour presentation, based on our course, introducing students to the projects and struggles of the Cuban revolutionary experiment of the last 60 years. As TAs, they were charged with preparing the study-abroad students to understand with historical nuance the socio-political dynamics they would encounter in their visit to the island. They had to prepare 8-10 slides discussing at least five major points (three of these points had to be based on matters explored in the second half of the course). I provided some tips on what makes for effective slide presentations to help students think through the medium strategically. Their slide presentations were evaluated mainly on substance, completeness, coherence, creativity, and originality.

These changes to the course assignments resulted in the students experiencing more joy and creativity in learning, which is what I think we need most.

Ileana M. Rodríguez-Silva is a Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor in History and associate professor of Latin American and Caribbean history. She is also the current director of undergraduate studies in the Department of History at UW-Seattle. Her research focuses on the production of race in the Americas, slavery and post-emancipation racial politics, and comparative colonial arrangements in the configuration of empires. She is the author of the award-winning book Silencing Blackness: Disentangling Race, Colonial Regimes, and National Struggles in Post-Emancipation Puerto Rico (1850-1920). Her scholarship appears in several academic journals such as the Hispanic American Historical Review, positions: Asia critique, Journal of Modern American History, and NACLA: Report on the Americas.

Flexible finals in the pandemic

By Holly Barker, Anthropology

This quarter I am teaching Research in Critical Sport Studies (ANTH 269). It’s a course for first-generation to college and/or students underrepresented in research. The class gives students a space to develop a series of small research projects with classmates so students consider the important contributions they make to academia, as well as opportunities to take these projects to a deeper level during successive quarters.

I don’t give midterms, and I don’t give final exams. Instead, I collaborate with students to create final projects that apply their learning from the class in ways that are meaningful or practical to them.

This is a quarter for maximum flexibility, so I’m emphasizing options. I encourage the students to talk about the barriers to learning they are experiencing right now so we can collectively adjust. Some students want their final projects to be a written option (e.g., writing an application to the McNair program or to an honors program on campus ). Another option is a video/oral submission where students apply critical discourse analysis in sports to the unfolding current events connected to police violence and the pandemic, an option that emphasizes the importance of student voices.

The students and I feel challenged in so many ways this quarter, and we are being open and honest with one another. I’m certainly not at my best, and I can’t expect them to be either. We are learning a great deal, but our learning is not the same as it would be in the classroom. We are learning a great deal about ourselves, and our responsibilities to shape our institutions. My job in this class and in the assignments is to further enhance the existing strengths of these fabulous young people so they will feel bolstered, prepared, cared for, and connected as they address the challenges of this world.

Our class started with a critical analysis of sports but quickly transitioned to the many ways that what happens in sports is very much connected to what happens outside of sports. I thank my students for their grace, courage, honestly, and patience this quarter, and for their ability to lean into one another for support even though they have never met in person.

Holly M. Barker is a principal lecturer in the UW Department of Anthropology and curator for Oceanic & Asian Culture at the Burke Museum.

Art is a dialogue

By Timea Tihanyi, School of Art + Art History + Design

Because art is a dialogue, much of what the Interdisciplinary Visual Arts seniors have been doing in ART 400 this quarter has been synchronous. Instead of the white-box gallery exhibition, students are presenting their work in a virtual “gallery” for which each student created both a senior project and an art portfolio website. By still presenting the work publicly, we’re trying to create a sense of normalcy. Working on an online platform gives the students new tools and new opportunities for content and form. It’s difficult to make creative work in isolation, so we’ve done guided peer critiques using the breakout room function in Zoom regularly.

Students have also had various opportunities to get the most important class content, do work, give and receive reviews asynchronously. They co-authored artist statements and gave written progress reports and feedback using Google Docs. Then used the feedback they received from peers and from me when preparing their online portfolios.

As for the final grading, only a small percentage of the final grade comes from the final project. I used a large number of low-stakes assignments throughout the quarter (such as the written progress reports and feedback). Our finals are a way to look back on the process, get a better understanding of each student’s individual perspective, and reflect on their quarter-long conversations with each other, me, and their work.

Image by Flora Davis for spring 2020 ART 400 course
Image by Flora Davis

Learn more about the ART 400 gallery page, “Ebb and Flow,” and find links to the students’ portfolio sites on the IVA Open House page.

Timea Tihanyi is a senior lecturer in the School of Art + Art History + Design’s Interdisciplinary Visual Arts concentration.

Math in the time of coronavirus

Reflections on teaching during the pandemic

By Jennifer Quinn, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Tacoma 

The COVID-19 viral disruption affects us all, particularly our most vulnerable citizens. It’s vital to find ways to connect our students and humanize this unprecedented and isolating experience.

These days I’m trying to worry less about the integrity of online examinations and the quality of online content — and think more about the people. I start by assuming students’ best intentions.

I’m also thinking about learning goals: Do we want to enable students to be critical thinkers? Problem solvers? To have flexible minds and be able to adapt? They will get all that through the experience we provide and more.

Will it really matter if my Calculus I class doesn’t get to L’Hopital’s rule, or the Calculus II class doesn’t get to partial fraction decomposition? I doubt it. For those that need it, there will be time later. For now, let’s congratulate ourselves and our students on getting through, and just breathe.

Visit Math in the Time of Corona to read more of Jennifer Quinn’s reflections on teaching during the pandemic.

​​Jennifer Quinn is a professor of mathematics in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Tacoma. She has held many positions of national leadership in mathematics, including executive director for the Association for Women in Mathematics, co-editor of Math Horizons, a publication of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), chair of MAA’s Council on Publications, and currently MAA’s president-elect. As a combinatorial scholar, Quinn thinks that beautiful proofs are as much art as science. Simplicity, elegance, and transparency should be the driving principles, and she strives to bring this same ethic to her teaching, service, and professional work.

Teaching from everywhere

Looking for even more ideas on how to teach and grade remotely? Find out how Rick Mohler, UW associate professor of architecture, is teaching his Research Design Studio students, as they discuss how they have re-imagined six Seattle neighborhoods.

Learn more about UW Zoom video conferencing.

Also, check out what faculty at Stanford are doing. Here is how Indiana University is maximizing remote teaching, as well as University of California Berkeley. Portland State University and Oregon State University have guides, too. And don’t forget to check the UW Teaching Remotely site, which we update regularly.


Fun with virtual backgrounds!

Your Zoom background doesn’t have to feature your office file cabinet covered with stickies. Nor does it need to highlight your washer and dryer, if you’re Zooming from home — although a quick appearance by your cat is a nice way to break up your lecture.

Ryan Calo, UW School of LawBy changing your virtual background in Zoom, you can teach from (virtually) anywhere in the world, like Ryan Calo, the Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Associate Professor in the School of Law. Watch this Zoom video to find out how to make your own.

What to say and how to say it

Communicating with your students is vitally important these days, especially without in-person classes and final exams. Where to start? Here is how the Law School explained finals to their students:

Dear Students,

Thank you for your patience as we transform our operations to enable remote finals that are both flexible to our students and allow faculty to make final assessments on student learning.

Finals will, for the most part, fall into two categories: papers or timed exams. Access to a computer with internet is required to complete these finals, but you can take exams from any computer. Students without access to a computer or internet can use one of seven designated computers available in the Gallagher Library.

Paper Finals

Papers will be turned into Canvas.

Over the course of the next week, if you are enrolled in a paper final course that requires anonymous submission, you will find a new Canvas course on your Dashboard for paper submission. These courses will all be labeled by class, professor, and “WIN20 Final Submission”. This allows us to securely collect papers and retain anonymity as your faculty will not have access to these Canvas pages. Please make sure your Exam Numbers are in the header of your papers and that they appear on all pages.

The Canvas courses will be available for the duration of finals week, but the turn-in deadlines will be set as directed by faculty. If you submit past the deadline, it will be noted with a “Late Submission”. Please note, Canvas can stall if there is significant simultaneous usage. If everyone tries to submit at the same time, right at the posted deadline, it can slow Canvas and show a late posting. If the time stamp is within five minutes of the posted deadline, it will not be considered late.

Timed Exams

On Monday, March 16, all timed exams will be accessible for you to take at the times and days you choose. Exams will be available for download until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 20. Due to the high volume of reschedule requests already in queue, this format allows you all to self-space your exams.

Timed final exams will be hosted in ExamSoft. Unlike previous exam cycles, all exam questions will be embedded into the software. We have enabled the timers so the exams will automatically upload at the end of the faculty-determined exam time. For example, if you begin your assessment at 2 p.m. and the faculty has determined the assessment should only take two hours, the assessment will close and upload at 4 p.m.

Faculty have determined which security settings to enable and those will be posted in your exam instructions.

Exam instructions will be posted to your class Canvas pages by Sunday, March 15. Your Examplify for ExamSoft passwords will be included in these instructions. Please do not use the passwords until you are ready to begin your exams. The timer will begin when you use your passwords, and you will not be able to pause your exam.

A refresher on how to install and access ExamSoft is available on the UW Law website.

Honor Code

As a UW Law Student, you are beholden to the Honor Code. As you begin each exam, we will ask you to re-acknowledge the Honor Code.


  • If you have an emergency and are not able to complete your exam during this period, contact Dean Anna Endter or Academic Services immediately.
  • If you are having day-of technical issues, call Academic Services at 206.542.0453 or email
  • ExamSoft support is also available at 866.429.8889.

Academic Success

Dean Jessica West wants to point out that the ability to manage your own exam times provides an incredible opportunity to exercise control over your study schedule. In the absence of careful planning, however, this lack of structure over the next couple of weeks also presents some significant risks.  It will be important to consider carefully how you will use the time to complete your work and prepare well for your exams.

Academic Success will be holding a Zoom workshop discussing exam preparation, exam scheduling and exam taking from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, March 11. Dean West is also available to provide insights and resources on all academic issues. Email Dean West for details at


Faculty were asked to confirm if they were planning to adhere to the original grading system. For most courses, grading procedures will remain unchanged. If your instructor has decided to change their approach to grading, they will follow up directly before the end of the quarter (March 10, 2020).

Food Service

The Supreme Cup and the Starbucks truck usually located in front of William Gates Hall will be closed until spring quarter starts on Monday, March 30.

If you have any questions, please contact Academic Services at