Assessment is one of the most difficult and challenging parts of course design. Here in CAFE, we use a "backwards design" approach to course design. We like to start with the desired result that aligns with our student learning outcomes. Then we design the assessment that best measures the achievement in progress towards those outcomes. We've often found that problems in courses results from assessments that are not properly designed with the desired results in mind. For example, if all you do is lecture to students about the material, but don't explain how to apply that material, then it's not really reasonable to expect them to apply the course material on a major exam. They need you to guide them through the process and give them ample opportunities to practice. All learning activities center around a change within the learner. A quality assessment measures the change in understanding of the student.
Assessment is an enormously complex topic. Many, many books have been written on this subject. We have a treasure trove of resources in the CAFE office on the subject of Assessment. We encourage you to visit us to see what we have to offer in this area.
Assessments tend to fall into two main categories: formative and summative. It's usually best to have a good mix of both to gain a more accurate portrait of student performance on learning outcomes.
"Alignment" with respect to assessments is a somewhat nebulous concept. The basic idea is that your learning outcomes determine what you want students to be able to know and do. Your assessments are the physical manifestation of the ability of students to perform that task. The activities that prepare students for the assessments should be "aligned" so that by the time students are ready to do the assessment, it's almost a forgone conclusion that they will be able to perform the task at some level of competency, proficiency, or mastery.
There are multiple dimensions to alignment:
Feedback is an important component of the assessment process. How can you become better unless you know what needs improvement?
We in CAFE recommend providing feedback that is specific, targeted, and timely. In other words, feedback works best when you describe specific items on which students can improve. It should target key issues that are important for them to learn. And it should be offered in a timely manner so that they can improve on their performance before their next assessment. It makes no sense to give students feedback on Exam 1 the day before they are supposed to complete Exam 2, yet this does happen.
We also recommend soliciting feedback FROM your students as well as giving feedback TO your students. Your students can evaluate you on your teaching performance through a mid-semester feedback survey, a service we offer every semester.
Rubrics can be a handy tool for providing feedback. Properly utilized, they can save you a lot of time, and give students transparency on what you are expecting from them. Rubrics are also very convenient for assessing the "soft skills" students will be developing in your course.
How do you hold students accountable for reading the feedback you provide? One way is to award points if they make changes to an assignment based on your feedback and give them an opportunity to resubmit. Another way is to have students prepare a one-minute video on how they could improve their performance (again for a couple of points).
Here are a couple of useful handouts:
Assessments are a complex combination of evaluative exercises, alignment with learning outcomes, and feedback opportunities to improve student performance. If you have more questions, comments, or concerns about assessments, please reach out to CAFE to schedule a consultation through the button below.
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