A group roped together climbing up the mountain

Photo Credit: The Climb by Jablan

This week, as part of the process of developing our individual classroom projects, we’ll focus on designing assessments. Grant Wiggins‘ and Jay McTighe‘s book, Understanding by Design (UdD), has had an enormous impact on curriculum development in the U.S. K-12 educational system. I’d like us to consider adopting some key UdD approaches as we work on our projects. Our first order of business, then, is to clarify our project goals.

  • What key skills, understandings, and/or attitudes do you want your students to possess as the result of this project?
  • Secondly, what would serve as evidence of that mastery? This is where the assessment piece comes in. What performance tasks, projects, quizzes, self-assessments, observations or other evidence will show what your students know and are able to do?
  • And lastly, what learning experiences could provide your students with the opportunity to gain that competency? This, then, would be the web 2.0 environment you would use.

As I’ve noted in a previous post:

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (Understanding by Design) hold that the development of goals and assessments (the ‘backwards design’ model) prior to crafting syllabi and classroom activities is essential for effective learning to take place. In addition, they suggest collaborative design, sharing and regular feedback from peers as well as from students, in order to make appropriate adjustments to instruction and curricula. Their work has had a significant impact on K-12 education and as evidenced-based learning outcomes become part of the higher educational landscape, it will be increasingly important for us to consider how, what and why we assess our students, our programs and our peers.

In our required readings we have quite a few examples showing how these socially mediated technologies have been used to support student learning, as well as teacher reflections on their efficacy. What questions come to mind as you look at this week’s materials?

Over the next month I would like us to devote a portion of our class meetings to sharing progress on and questions about the design, implementation and evaluation of our projects so that together, we can reach our goals. We’ll talk in more detail about this on Friday. See you then!

And don’t forget, we will be participating in the Open Video Alliance’s Wireside Chat with Lawrence Lessig this week on the 25th from 6-7:30 p.m.

UCONN’s Institute for Teaching & Learning’s Director of Instructional Design and Development, Desmond McCaffrey has shared with us a chart that matches a variety of testing instruments and methods to Bloom’s original taxonomy so that you can have a sense of the various assessment options available to you. Thanks to Desmond for sharing this with us and to Catherine for passing it along.


12 Responses to “Assessment”

  1. sondrus Says:

    I absolutely loved Barbara Sawhill and Barbara Vance’s case studies! I find it empowering to shift the responsibility and accountability more onto the students. Personally my independent readings for my exams has been the most pleasurable, precisely because I have largely determined what and how I read/work.
    I had a Creative Writing teacher at the graduate level who implemented some student centered assessment techniques, such as having us write our goals at the beginning of the semester and put them in individual envelopes, which she collected and then returned at the end of the semester for us to open. For one of our books she let us individually choose which stories to read. Perhaps we had to read five of our choice. I remember finding this fresh because it duplicated the joyful (and passion) feeling of “leisure reading.” In terms of class discussion following this independent/free reading approach, I remember more attentively listening to my peers, eager to learn what they “discovered.” This free choice was only for one of the books we read. However, I find it remarkable how this approach positively impressed me. It was something small, yet powerful.
    While teaching Creative Writing myself I also implemented student self-assessment. I asked students to write on their revision process for a poem or story they were working on. It emphasized the seriousness of writing, that creative writing is not “just fun,” but a craft which demands dedication, thought and reflection. This helped students to clarify their own goals and likewise aided me in seeing what they were doing and where they wanted their work to go.
    I am presently a Teaching Assistant (I lead discussion sessions) and am struggling with how to implement this approach of putting students in charge with letting them lead. It seems difficult because these are not my classes, in the sense that I do not design the courses or have the authority to do so. Thoughts on how to implement student authority in literature discussion sessions?
    I am enthused by the real world approach/incorporation of Vance and Sawhill. I loved when my language classes did real world activities such as ordering in a restaurant, watching soap operas, listening to the BBC, and I detested a class which was 90% focused on grammar. I was really struck by Vance saying that “creating work in a vacuum delegitimizes it.” This clarifies how students may not feel engaged with projects which are academic exercises. It also questions our own work in the university.

    • Barbara Says:

      I think you’ve hit on two vital aspects in the crafting of meaningful, authentic learning environments for students, Suzanne—fostering student engagement through structured student choice and encouraging student responsibility through guided individual goal-setting and self-evaluation. I wonder how feasible it would be to implement these in large size classes, if the use of any of the technologies we’ve reviewed thus far could be employed to serve those ends, and if any of you have any ideas for how, as Suzanne wonders, you all, as teaching assistants, might gain experience trying to do so?

      • kemen528 Says:

        I definitely agree with Suzanne’s opinion on Sawhill and Vance’s case studies, they were interesting and extremely helpful in that they were first accounts of what instructors experienced when implementing technology in the classroom. I identified particularly with Barbara Vance’s case study due to the fact that she was given an introductory course with certain material that she had to cover, yet she was given freedom with HOW to cover it, which is exactly what happens with all of the TAs in the Spanish section. I was impressed with how she crafted her solution to her problem, but I was left wondering how she came up with that project for her rhetoric class because, I must admit, I do not think I would have ever thought of creating a film and assigning roles to each student. I think that the important message from the materials that we had to read for today’s class is the importance of setting a goal and formulating a question for what you want to assess in the first place before utilizing an assessment tool, something that Barbara Sawhill really emphasizes in her postings. I appreciated how she provided clear instructions for her students on what she expected for their final project. I think that instructors tend to take for granted how important instructions are when assessing their students, as well as setting goals, which was reinforced by the Spurlin article.

        The questions that come to my mind are definitely involving what both Barbara and Suzanne touched upon, how to implement technology in the assessment of a large group of students. I saw that both case studies dealt with smaller group of students and the assessment was for the most part very student-centered, and what I mean by this is that it was centered around each individual student (I realize that Vance’s case study had a film that the students collaborated on but they were still graded individually and given individual roles.) How do we avoid having some students slip through the cracks and how do we still maintain that “individuality” that is seen in the case studies?

  2. celeste2010 Says:

    Suzanne, I think your experience as a graduate student is really interesting.
    On the other hand, I’m thinking on this idea of implementing this approach of shifting the responsibility and accountability more onto students, putting them in charge and letting them lead.
    I came up with this idea: what about asking them to suggest the main topic of a reading and let them discuss with their partners if they agree or not with that?
    What do you think?

  3. chenwenh Says:

    I do find this week’s readings quite helpful. In the past few weeks, we have discussed about why we should never disregard the facts of “Learning 2.0,” how recent “Educational Trends” have affected higher education, how we instructors could help students locate and filter information in a Hyperconnected world, and how many of those who do collaborative editing. This is really a good time to step backward and think about why we are using technology in teaching. I guess Joni E. Spurlin’s article about “Technology and Learning” might be a little tedious and theoretical, but it does point to an essential concept: “Outcomes First, Technology Second.” Learning outcomes should be the only factor that drives us towards designing effective and appropriate assessment. If we agree that it is important to integrate technology with our teaching, we should also devise a new set of assessment that can and will thoroughly examine learning outcomes resulted from applying new instructional approaches. Assessment 2.0 is necessary, I mean. What bothers me then is whether the new set of rubrics that fits the needs of teaching with technology does exist.
    I really appreciate Barbara Vance’s creative method of engaging student with writing composition. While she employed an experimental teaching method, she did not forget her ultimate teaching goal: to improve her students’ writing and rhetorical skills. I think my own weakness in designing an appropriate lesson plan is that I oftentimes took too much attention to what technology or what online sources I can use for teaching without keeping in mind “why” I need to introduce them to students. Effectiveness should be a concern over the integration of technology and learning. If the use of technology does not somehow improve the learning outcomes, I got to ask why technology does not implement student learning. Is it the problem occurring on the side of instructors? Is it the technology itself not appropriate for the specific lesson or course? Is it the use of technology that obstructs students from taking advantage of it?

    • sarahmelvine Says:

      Chen Wen, I completely agree with your assertion that we need to develop an “assessment 2.0” before continuing with the integration of technology in writing courses. I am not sure how to proceed with these new pedagogical strategies without a comprehensive grading rubric for online publishing. I guess this underlines a fundamental lack of clarity that I have about our why our goals have shifted.
      As a composition instructor, I have some misgivings about the use of social networking as a means of reflective and academic writing. We definitely need to first ask ourselves what greater purpose in education do these novel technological tools serve. I have a difficult time in answering that question myself at this point, although I am now very well-versed in the rhetoric of collaborative learning, which will serve me well in the job market.
      I suppose that I feel the need to take a critical position on the shift that we are seeing in composition pedagogy. I am not dismissive of change, in fact I am very open to revising educational approaches, but like I Chen Wen I feel that there are some fundamental questions to be answered before I can proceed.

      • Lay Says:

        After reading Sawhill and Vance’s cases I was left with Sarah’s questions. How can I implement these technologies and a proper rubric to evaluate the student’s work. Especially when considering certain language classes. Right now, I am teaching two composition courses where the emphasis is on vocabulary an grammar. I can in fact evaluate those while reading their postings on any web environment. However, my question is how I can go beyond these forms so I could promote real collaborative work.

        Here comes the need to create an environment where they are responsible for each others pieces of work. The wiki has allowed me that tool. They post their “diarios” and their classmates can make comments on the content. So far, I believe their work has gotten better. However, there are some drawbacks to this method. I am still in charge of correcting the use of grammar and vocabulary. I must admit that I find it hard to let go of this. Especially when some students need much help with it. The other drawback is I sometimes find it difficult to evaluate the comments some students leave for their classmates. So far, I have used the participation grade for this are. I must admit that I feel it insufficient when considering that some students have put a great effort in reading carefully their classmates work so they can comment.

        Probably this is where Barbara Vance’s work come into account for me. It helps to give me another point of view to the work and how to plan it. Though I believe, like Sarah and Chen Wen, that there are still many questions that stop me from taking that next jump that I want to take.

  4. sarahmelvine Says:

    I found Barbara Vance’s piece on the use of blogging in the teaching of rhetoric and composition courses to be interesting and relevant to my pedagogical approach. Vance argues that for courses in which the focus is on rhetoric and argumentation, one ought to write through a medium that is publicly accessible. Furthermore, students need to be able to discourse with their classmates in an open access setting to learn how to rebut claims and deconstruct fallacious reasoning.

    I both agree and disagree with Vance’s approach. On the one hand, I feel that students ought to practice being responsible producers of information; so many students whimsically publish whatever pops into their heads on social networking sites and do not give a second thought to its effects. I think that asking students to blog in a public forum (under the pressure of a professor’s scrutiny) establishes a practice of responsible internet use and also helps to reinforce critical thinking skills that often are ignored in the use of social networking sites. If this “revolution” is truly inevitable, we must at least ask the producers of knowledge for a more sophisticated level of input.

    However, on the other hand, outside of teaching rhetoric and argumentation in writing courses, public forums can hinder students from attempting the “essai” element of the essay. Students are less likely to take chances and push their thinking if they fear public exposure. I think that this approaches forces students to write more conservatively and does not allow for the free exploration of ideas as on has in the private composition process. Although you share your final product with a teacher or professor, there is a level of professionalism that is expected from an instructor, which is not guaranteed from a disparate audience.

    So, I suppose that I am in favor of blogging in writing courses in particular contexts, however I feel that we should as educators always maintain a skepticism and critical attitude to sudden radical changes to our pedagogy, which should not be confused with conservatism. We are responsible for preserving the integrity of higher education, and I don’t think that is something to be taken lightly.

  5. Barbara Says:

    In addition to looking at Barbara Sawhill’s teacher and student evaluation forms (no. 6 in our syllabus for week 6) I wanted to share with you a few more resources that could help you as you think about why, when and how to assess student work. I’ve posted a link on this blog post to a chart created by Desmond McCaffrey of our Institute for Teaching & Learning. The chart links the taxonomy levels of the original Bloom’s taxonomy with various testing methods and instruments.

    You might also want to look at BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning’s section on authentic assessment. It uses Bloom’s revised taxonomy and includes a section on what the teacher does for each level as well.

    Andrew Churches over at Educational Origami has some invaluable resources for connecting Bloom’s revised taxonomy with student-centered teaching, including a set of rubrics when using various social media environments.

    Then there is the 2004 Campus Technology article, The Newest Media and a Principled Approach for Integrating Technology Into Instruction, that provides a helpful set of questions to assess any new teaching approach. Based on research from the cognitive and learning sciences, these questions could well guide you as you construct your learning environments.

    Lastly, you can find and add to the sites tagged with ‘assessment’ in our Diigo group. Happy hunting!

  6. sondrus Says:

    Your idea of having students suggest topics for reading made me remember a Women’s Pedagogy spotlight session I attended a year ago on Feminist pedagogy. Basically the presenter (I believe it was Prof. Desai with an undergrad. class) mentioned how she has students co-design the class on the first day! They decide what they want to read, the format for assessment… So it was totally collaborative and engaged the students! I had never heard of this approach before and would like to learn more about it.

    • Barbara Says:

      Suzanne, you might want to check out an EdTechTalk interview with Barbara Ganley, formerly of Middlebury (by clicking on the show notes, you’ll see pertinent sections related to student participation). On this 2007 blog post on our site you can find links to a fascinating interview with Barbara Ganley and Barbara Sawhill as well as our ‘after show’ Skype call with the two Barbaras. They talk specifically about how they fashion learning environments in which students co-construct course objectives.

    • celeste2010 Says:

      This is an excellent idea! Thanks. I would like to try it too in the future.
      I strongly agree that this approach would engaged students a lot. Also since it’s from the very first class I think students interest in the class would be really huge and meaningful.
      It may also be possible using other tools we have learned now like online surveys or HuskyCT surveys.
      Other options I’m thinking right now are maybe asking them for a list of priorities, choosing the readings that they are more interested in; or assigning each one of them a different topic and ask them to explore it briefly and share it next class so everybody can decide if it sounds interesting or not for them.

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