The “A” word–Assessment

In how people learn on November 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Measuring student learning is one of instructor’s most difficult tasks. Assessment is also a difficult task for institutions.

In the article Measuring Student Learning, Many Tools, David Glenn, discusses the issue as an institutional issue and points out that a group of institutions have combined to study different methods of assessment. The group, headed by Charles Blaich, director of Wabash College’s Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, seeks to collect data to determine effectiveness. Cr. Blaich encourages universities to use a variety of tools, as appropriate for the school, to collect data. He also encourages universities to use data they already collect, when possible.

I’ve used a variety of assessment methods in my classes: exams, scoring rubrics, ePortfolios using Mahara (an open source program) and now possibly Taskstream and  computer based testing (such as Criterion, a writing program). I have tried mind mapping, graphic organizers, research papers, short papers, multiple quizzes, take home exams, and oral presentations.

The tension is palpable. I can measure whether someone has memorized the content most easily through a test. I can measure critical thinking and ability to apply through a test. However, does that demonstrate learning or deep learning?  How does one measure learning (see this website, Approaches to Study: Deep and Surface, for more on the concept of deep learning) ?  Measure critical thinking? Measure successful integration of information learned with information previously learned?

So, I muddle along, measuring learning based on how my learning was measured (primarily through multiple-choice, true-false, essay, standardized, nationwide, validated tests-depending on when and what) and I add in what I learn from attending conferences, listening to experts and applying what I’ve learned to my classes in an effort to truly encourage and measure learning. Is it successful? It depends on who you ask.

That’s enough for this post; next post I’ll briefly discuss my foray into ePortfolios, my current preferred assessment method when I have adequate time to process the student information.

As you can see,  I will continue to struggle with the “A” word!

  1. Hi, Ida,
    You write from the heart and, as a retired teacher, I can understand where you are coming from, although geographically speaking it took a bit of time to sus out that you are probably writing from the states (a bit more biog in the ‘about’ would help!)

    However, in terms of ePortfolios the ‘A-word’ has a particular connotation – that of understanding the ‘whole-child’. I do not think that an ePortfolio will or can replace other assessment tools but it can go a long way to supplementing the tools that you describe. If the ePortfolio truly belongs to the learner, then he/she should be able to choose what artefacts and descriptions they feel best represents themselves.

    Another aspect of the ePortfolio is that it should not be seen as a summative tool but that it is a collaborative tool whereby teachers can provide individual feedback at an early stage before a student goes completely off-track. Also, peers can provide useful and constructive feedback, encouraging the learner to consider other areas of investigation etc.

    As I often say in my blog, ‘Let the VLE (or MLE) do what it does best and let the ePortfolio do what it can best do.’

  2. Thanks Ray for your response.

    I agree with you that student control of ePortfolios is an essential component. Students should be able to determine whicih artefacts they display.

    We’ve been looking at ePortfolios as a broader based approach: to use for advising, outcomes assessment evidence for accrediting bodies and as part of summative assessments in courses and/or programs. Combining these uses into a package that permits formative and summative assessment for internal and external uses has been the subject of much discussion at my institution.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. […] In how people learn on November 26, 2010 at 8:57 am The “A” word is Assessment. I blogged about it a couple of days ago and noted that I’d talk about my foray into […]

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