Blog on Assessment: Strategies, Best Practices, and Alternate Forms

March 17, 2016


Let's Talk About Assessment

Assessments are a foundational component of the teaching and learning processes. One of the goals of education is to increase knowledge and assessments allow instructors to gauge the success of learning resources and activities or determine if students require additional assistance. However, although they are an integral part of education, assessments are sometimes viewed in a less than positive light by both students and faculty; students have reported experiencing great anxiety about both low and high stakes assessments and faculty feel that a typical assessment sometimes fails to convey students' true levels of comprehension.

So how can faculty ensure that assessments adequately test students' learning and comprehension?

Reflection, Not Regurgitation

Often a question on an assessment requires students to simply identify (yes/no, true/false, multiple choice, etc.) or provide (a numerical solution to an equation or problem) an answer. However, this method is not always effective. As one faculty member noted: "I have found tests and quizzes that require recitation or identification of facts to be as meaningless for students to complete as they are for me to grade" as a greater concern is "student learning and student growth." Students can be encouraged to move past the simple answer, to reflect more deeply on the question, to provide an explanation or analysis, not just an answer, sometimes simply being asked "Why?".  By allowing students to apply instead of regurgitate the knowledge they've gained, instructors are able to have a more robust understanding of students' comprehension. Don't expect students to recite facts alone -- insist that they apply knowledge, not just answer the question.

Bring on the Feedback

Not long ago I was speaking to a student who was expressing frustration at a less than stellar grade on a quiz. The part that bothered her wasn't necessarily the grade, it was the fact that she didn't know -- and wasn't being told -- why her answers were incorrect. Without feedback to provide her some direction, the student didn’t feel confident enough to re-engage the information in the event she needed to build on that moving forward in her course and program of study. Feedback can be provided on a micro (per question) or macro (whole assessment) level. In either instance, making sure that the feedback is timely and topical is the key. Educator John Hattie <> strongly encourages the use of feedback, calling it "among the most powerful influences on how people learn." However, he cautions that effective feedback should be provided by instructors, warning that much of the feedback students receive is from other students, and "much of that feedback is wrong." If utilized correctly, feedback not only provides information for students on past performance with suggestions for future alterations and improvements, it also shows students how they can begin to assess their own learning.

(Both of the suggestions above require more work on the parts of both students and faculty. Hopefully, though, the reward for the additional work is richer teaching and learning experiences.)

Moving Past the Test

Not all assessments need to be the traditional quizzes or tests distributed via paper or through the learning management system. A variety of departments across campus use alternate forms of assessment both formative and summative in nature in order to gauge student comprehension and success, from the simulation labs utilized in the School of Nursing and School of Education, Health and Human Behavior to the real-world applications of the College of Arts and Sciences' Archeology-led field school and the Criminal Justice-coordinated internships.

Two successful program-level assessments are the projects being utilized by the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior's Instructional Technology and the School of Nursing's Accelerated RN to BS, both fully online programs. IT's Dr. Melissa Thomeczek and Dr. Becky Luebbert from the SON were asked to elaborate on the alternate assessments being used by their programs and to comment on why they feel these methods are so successful.

Dr. Melissa Thomeczek: "In the Instructional Technology Program, we use juries to measure student growth and ensure that students have met the program goals. A 'jury' is simply an online portfolio where student write narratives (and provide artifacts as proof) to demonstrate their experiences and growth throughout the program. The jury is evaluated twice. When evaluated, professors are looking for student’s ability to synthesize and apply content across various courses. Student narratives show their holistic thinking about their experiences within the program.  I find this process to be highly meaningful as a faculty member. Rather than reading a list of facts, I get to hear students describe experiences that were powerful, meaningful, or impactful in their personal growth through our program. To me, this is not only a better measure of their learning, but also a much more rewarding document to read than any exam."

Dr. Rebecca Luebbert: "The RN/BS capstone project, incorporated throughout the final three nursing courses, provides the RN student with experience in developing a project that leads to improvement of patient care and/or reduction in risk of harm.  In capstone I, the student evaluates and synthesizes evidence in the literature to provide support for a clinical problem.  In capstone II, the student applies this evidence in developing a small test of change using a quality improvement framework.  In the final capstone course, the student makes predictions of outcomes, evaluates, and formally disseminates findings of their project.  Dissemination occurs via synchronous, online sessions to program faculty, stakeholders, and their peers.   The capstone project is a great fit for our working RN students, as they are enabled to develop a scholarly and adoptable quality improvement project that is specific to the needs of their own work environment. "

Categories: All Categories, Teaching, Students