Online Blogucation

Are our students learning what we’re teaching?

Assessment is not a four letter word but among many higher education faculty it might as well be. The current tide of “show me” in assessment has alienated faculty. The approach has often been a top down model and it isn’t working.

Let’s listen and learn… 

I know my students. I know my subject matter. I can tell you which students “get it” and which ones “don’t”. I am in the classroom.

Here is what good teachers do. We start with intended student learning outcomes that allow us as instructors to design our curriculum with a focus on guiding student learning and not just on course content delivery.
Critical thinking skills are essential in all disciplines of higher education but how often do we have students enter our courses not bringing with them the tools they have acquired in their cumulative learning? This linkage for students requires that our teaching not only be systematic but behaviorally systemic. We push students to apply their knowledge and skills throughout all parts of their life. The trend in higher education is no longer about “seat time” or “activity minutes” but rather student demonstration of learning and we get it!

 So now you ask us, “How will we know if the students learned what we had hoped? How will they know?”

The progression of gathering information from course assignments, discussion threads and exams extends to improvement of subsequent learning and is the way we facilitate learning. Formative assessment allows for learning to be a process of improvement. It encourages students to build on previous learning and to transfer that learning into new situations. Summative assessment on the other hand evaluates an end product or process. In Levels of Assessment: From the Student to the Institution, Miller and Leskes (2005) explain:

“While the holistic assignment of grades (an A, B or F) is a way to evaluate student work, such grades represent averaged estimates of overall quality and communicate little to students about their strengths, weaknesses, or ways to improve. A better way to aid learning is through analyticalassessment, which can be as simple as written comments on student papers or as structured as the use of a detailed rubric for an assignment; such analysis can reveal precisely which concepts a student finds challenging.”

Using the student information we collect (assess) to inform our curriculum design means improved student learning within and across courses and as good instructors this is what we do!
So, is this about better teaching or better learning? You be the judge. But we will tell you it is not about extra work as we perceive the imposed ‘culture of evidence’ called assessment! It is about promoting collaborative work among all stakeholders to benefit our students!

Karen R. Owens, Ph.D.
Higher Education Assessment Consultant
Pearson eCollege

Miller, R. & Leskes, A. (2005). Levels of Assessment: From the Student to the Institution. A Greater Expectations Publication: Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC & U).
Retrieved July 20, 2010 from:

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