After you have clearly articulated the learning objectives for your course, the next big question an instructor must ask is, "How can my students demonstrate that they have achieved the objectives?" What kind of evidence would support a student's claim that they have mastered the course content and met the course goals?
As instructional design theories shift from traditional models to more learner-centered models, strategies for assessing learning are also shifting. The new constructivist learning paradigm views knowledge as being built in the sense-making process of individual learners' minds rather than transmitted from teacher to student. Thus, assessing learning is moving away from objective measures of discrete, isolated facts toward a more subjective focus on inquiry-based ways to demonstrate both the process and product of learning.1 Deciding what types of assessment strategies best fit your teaching style, your students' learning styles, and the content in your courses is an important step in the instructional design process, and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of various assessment options can be helpful in making these decisions.2 To engage and motivate learners, faculty are encouraged to consider diverse ways of assessing students' learning, even giving students options for making their own choices about how best to characterize their learning.3
Traditionally, assessment has consisted primarily of objective exams and quizzes. While they are often convenient, especially with large class sizes, quizzes and exams often measure relatively superficial knowledge. There are dozens of alternatives to exams, many of which measure more subjective learning outcomes and are more engaging for both students and the instructors who have to grade the assessments! Some alternatives include:4
- Research Papers or Reports: From an annotated bibliography to a source-referenced research paper, students can use writing to demonstrate their understanding of course content. As a more collaborative, technology-based alternative, students can edit or create Wikis on course topics.
- Reflective Writing Assignments: Prioritizing process, reflective writing, like journal entries or narrative essays, allow students to explore not only what they have learned but how they have come to understand it in the ways they do. Blogs can be an engaging alternative to typical paper-based journal writing.
- Portfolios (and ePortfolios): To complete a portfolio, students compile various pieces of work, often accompanied by annotations articulating the learning each piece represents. Portfolios encourage students to deepen their learning by reflecting on work they have done and what it has taught them. For a technological twist, have students complete ePortfolios digitally instead of paper-based works.
- Presentations: Whether oral or video-based, having students share what they have learned with their peers (or even other members of the community) can be an engaging way for learners to document and showcase their understanding.
- Task Performance/Practical: For hands-on learner and pragmatic course content, assessment might take the form of asking students to perform a particular task to be observed and evaluated for a grade. For example, students might demonstrate a successful blood draw, perform an accurate mathematical proof, or engage in an effective debate or interview with peers or an instructor.
- 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning , Mary C. Joyce, American Association for Higher Education. Expansion and rationalization for main principles of assessment in higher education.
- See also: "Aging Nicely", NILOA Principles
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Assessment Methods, Morningside College. Advantages, disadvantages, and recommendations for performance measures, locally developed exams, portfolios, and surveys/questionnaires.
- Alternative Assessment Strategies , Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota. Nine non-traditional options to assessment in the classroom.
- Assessment Methods, from the assessment resources page at the University of Albany, assessment methods, including capstone courses; course embedded; performance-based; student portfolios; tests
- Assessment That Promotes Learning , John P. Lowe, Penn State. Strategies including daily class problems, day one questionnaires, and exam analysis.
- The Characteristics of High-Quality Formative Assessment, Sarah Wilson, The Innovative Instructor.
- Classroom Assessment Strategies, Walker Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Assumptions of classroom assessment, various techniques, and designing questions.
- Developing Objectives and Relating them to Assessment, Sue Bannister, The Center for Teaching and Learning, University of North Carolina Charlotte. Largely focuses on how to make sure your objectives are properly assessed in the classroom.
- Evaluation Cookbook, from the Learning Technology Dissemination Initiative
- Improving College Grading, Gerald S. Hanna and William E. Cashin, Idea Paper 19, The Idea Center.
- Strategies for Direct and Indirect Assessment of Student Learning , Mary J. Allen, Duke University. Includes things to look for in a variety of different testing options, including published tests.
- Strategies for Effective Assessment: Capstone Assessment, Ferris State University.
- Using Alternative Assessments, Center for Teaching & Learning, Brigham Young University. Advantages and disadvantages of alternative assessment, how to to properly construct them (with examples).
- What Should I Consider as I Plan My Course Assessments?, Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Texas. Covers the potential learning context, any stakeholders' needs, and how certain types of assessments influence students.
- Why Talk About Different Ways to Grade? The Shift from Traditional Assessment to Alternative Assessment, Rebecca S. Anderson, New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Research article covering the importance of using alternative forms of assessment in the classroom, and different examples that can be implemented.
- Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG), from the National Institute for Science Education
- Assessment in and of Collaborative Learning, from the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education
- Assessment and Evaluation in Problem-based Learning, from the Georgia Institute of Technology
- Assessment Strategies for Enquiry and Problem-based Learning, from Ranald Macdonald, Sheffield Hallam University
- Examples of Assessment in the Academic Disciplines, alphabetized by discipline, from Assessment Resources at the University of Albany
- Assessment and Outcomes, CIIA, Western Washington University. Introduction to how to plan for assessment.
- Idea 9: Inquiry-based Learning Assessment Tools, CIIA Innovative Teaching Showcase.
- Tools and Techniques for Course Improvement, created by Richard Fry, WWU
1. Why Talk About Different Ways to Grade? The Shift from Traditional Assessment to Alternative Assessment, Rebecca S. Anderson, New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Research article covering the importance of using alternative forms of assessment in the classroom, and different examples that can be implemented.
2. Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Assessment Methods, Morningside College. Advantages, disadvantages, and recommendations for performance measures, locally developed exams, portfolios, and surveys/questionnaires.
3. How Do I Motivate My Students? Mekiva Callahan, Teaching Resources, Texas Tech University.
4. Assessment in Inquiry-based Learning. Ophea Teaching Tools.