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Assessment for learning: Putting the pieces together with real-world assignments

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 09:00

This is the seventh post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. 

Reflecting on my time as a philosophy student at McGill, I initially found it quite difficult to recall an assignment that was “real-world” or “hands-on” in the way that those terms are typically understood: I never journeyed to Greece to work at a school for moral education or sculpted a bust of Plato. However, when I took those terms less literally, it became quite clear to me that I was constantly asked to make connections between theory and the “real world” in my assignments. These real-world connections made my studies much more meaningful and increased my understanding of often dense texts. I have the suspicion that many students in other disciplines would feel the same way.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. Two students, one from the Faculty of Engineering and another from the Faculty of Education, shared with us their experiences with assignments that allowed them to apply their learning to real-world scenarios.

This student recalls a project in which they were tasked with designing an amplifier for a microphone. They found that they needed to implement a variety of concepts that they had used to solve practice problems in class, exclaiming, “It was cool to see how they all fit together.”

The other student describes an assignment for which they attended a cultural event. They note how they particularly appreciated being able to “actually use” what they were learning and “put it into practice.”

 

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy:

Read about why instructors might want to involve students in “hands-on” projects and how they can implement such activities.

Need ideas for creating authentic writing assignments? Check out some examples.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessment for learning: The art of asking good questions

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:00

This is the sixth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

One of the most novel assignments I’ve encountered was within the context of an English conference. Each of the students was responsible for leading one conference, presenting our analysis of a text and then facilitating discussion. Besides the usual apprehension towards presenting, I found it particularly challenging to develop good questions for discussion. I wanted questions to prompt my peers to synthesize what we’d learned and generate new ideas. Questions also had to be crafted so that they allowed adequate time to be explored within the allotted time. To pose an interesting question, I really had to take the time to thoughtfully engage with the content. Through developing my question for the conference, I explored my own responses to questions and critically reflected on my own knowledge. This assignment was particularly well- suited for conferences, but student-generated questions can be used in a variety of settings.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student shared with us their experience with student-generated questions. For each assignment, the instructor required that students answer one instructor-generated question and one student-generated question. The student commented that the assignment meant they had to thoroughly review their notes, which made them “think of things [they] wouldn’t have thought of.” Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Having students create questions can afford insight into how well students understand course content, but creating stimulating and meaningful questions can be a challenge for students, as well as instructors. Read about creating questions designed to promote “thinking, understanding, and learning” in The Art of Asking Questions and get ideas for integrating questions into teaching in How to Use Questions to Promote Student Learning.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessment for learning: Designing meaningful group (team) work experiences

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 09:00

This is the fifth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I rarely had opportunities to engage in group work or even interact with my peers, besides the occasional in-class discussion. However, friends of mine in other fields of study did have such opportunities … and I frequently heard complaints from them about the assessment of group work. They sometimes described the experience as purposeless – there was nothing about the assignment that made group work seem necessary. Often, one or two of the group members ended up doing all the work. One way to avoid this situation might be to design group work so that members are accountable to peers for their performance in the group. In addition, it would be motivating for students if group work assignments had a clear and meaningful connection to applications in the discipline and emphasized skills development.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. Two students from two different faculties shared with us their experiences with group work.

This student describes their experience learning discipline-specific techniques with their peers in the context of a lab, expressing the value they saw in developing teamwork skills.

In this student’s experience, the groups were tasked with making a decision about how to navigate an ethical dilemma. The student highlighted the value of the experience to them: “Working in groups gave me a real-world perspective on how working in a real environment would be.”

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Consider designing teamwork so that students assess peers’ contributions to completing the assignment. Not sure how to do that? Check out Using Peer Assessment to Make Teamwork Work.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessment for learning: Building an academic community through peer review

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 09:00

This is the fourth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

How can opportunities for peer feedback create an academic community in your classroom? Early in my English and philosophy majors, I often felt that the work I was doing existed in a vacuum – it was never critically thought about by anyone besides the instructor and only seemed relevant to the course I was taking. In my final year, one of my instructors asked the class for feedback on a paper she was developing, framing the discussion as one that she typically had with colleagues in her discipline. After that, she asked each of us to share prospectuses we had written and do a feedback exchange with a peer. Having seen how my instructor engaged us in providing her with feedback, as she engaged in peer review with her colleagues, the experience of peer feedback became more meaningful to me. Instead of doing an exercise for the purpose of a course, we were working with one another as colleagues in an academic community and we held ourselves to a certain standard, putting significant effort into the feedback we gave.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student shared with us their experience in an English seminar. Each student drafted a short research paper, presented it to the class and then received feedback from peers and the instructor. Through numerous stages of revision, students expanded first drafts into potentially publishable final papers. Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Asking students to write for “real” audiences can be motivating for them. Read about a “realistic” writing assignment.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessment for learning: Learning from peers with two-stage quizzes

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 09:00

This is the third post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series, as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

Whenever I completed a quiz for a course during my undergraduate degree, the learning seemed prematurely curtailed: I did the quiz, received a grade on myCourses, and then wondered about the questions I had answered incorrectly. When we got our quiz results, my peers and I sometimes ended up helping one another understand where we had gone wrong – just because we were curious about the answers. We were actually engaging in an informal peer feedback activity. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that we could have learned from our incorrect responses through structured peer feedback activities that were organized, and maybe even assessed, by the instructor.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student described how their instructor used a two-stage quiz – where students first completed the quiz individually and then completed the same quiz with a group. As the student described, the first stage gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their own understanding of the content and the second stage allowed each student to pick up on the things they’d missed thanks to peers’ input. Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Learn more about two-stage exams (or quizzes): implementation, benefits and challenges.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessment for learning: questions – a feedback practice we learned from Socrates

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 09:00

This is the second post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series, as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. Read about AfL in the initial series post.

Can providing feedback in the form of questions be an effective method of assessment? As an undergraduate student, I received feedback on my papers in the form of direct suggestions or compliments. For example, one instructor encouraged me to further situate my argument in theory and another praised the clarity of my introduction. However, I often wondered if instructors’ comments could somehow have been written so as to help me develop my own understanding of my papers’ strengths and areas for improvement, rather than giving me solutions or praise. Maybe giving students feedback in the form of questions rather than comments would inspire us to think more deeply about our work. What if my instructor had written: “How might Hume’s paper, a work you didn’t examine, either strengthen or undermine your argument?” A question like that would have made me go back to my writing to look at a theory I hadn’t considered and I would have made significant improvements to my paper! Maybe Socrates was onto something with his elenctic method …

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student described how their instructor had given them a novel type of feedback on a research paper assignment – the feedback was in the form of questions that called upon them to explore the paper’s potential areas for development. This method of providing feedback initiated a dialogue between the student and instructor; it also prompted the student to critically reflect on their work and encouraged them to engage in revision through self-assessment. Listen to what they say.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Feedback in the form of dialogue can also entail students asking the questions. Read about an interactive cover sheet strategy where instructor comments are guided by student questions.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Beyond grading: Ever heard of “assessment for learning”? Let me explain …

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 09:00

What words or images come to mind when you hear the word “assessment”? As a teacher? As a student?

Twice a year, McGill University’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) offers a two-day Course Design Workshop that includes an exploration of assessment practices. As a lead-in to discussion, TLS puts that question to the instructors who attend the workshop. The responses show a wide variety of associations that reflect the complexity of assessment considered from both instructor and student perspectives. Words such as fairness, clarity, judgment, stress, workload, and anxiety are frequently associated with assessment.

Many of the negative associations come from equating assessment with judging or grading student performance at the end of a course. End-of-course grading is one important purpose of assessment, and there’s another one. What if we think about assessment as a way to let students know how they’re progressing with their learning? As an opportunity to guide students’ learning and motivate students to learn? What if we think about assessment for learning?

Assessment for learning (AfL) provides students with opportunities to:

  • learn through frequent informal and low-stakes feedback, such as peer review of draft assignments
  • learn through formal feedback, such as instructor comments on assignments
  • practice and build confidence
  • engage in challenging, authentic tasks
  • develop their ability to assess their own learning
  • receive a balance of formative and summative assessment

(Sambell, McDowell, & Montgomery, 2013, p. 5)

AfL suggest that assessment goes beyond assigning a grade to students’ work. AfL describes assessment as an activity rich in practice opportunities and informal feedback, and one that can involve the individual student and peers, as well as the instructor. Thinking about assessment in this way may represent a marked shift in conceptions of purpose and implementation of assessment. Indeed, assessment can be a most opportune moment to bolster students’ learning!

Do students believe they can learn from the way they are assessed? We asked them. TLS randomly stopped students on campus to ask them for examples of assignments that helped them learn, along with explanations of what, in particular, was helpful. Their responses speak to AfL, and they afford us insight into how instructors can intentionally design assessments to foster students’ learning. Listen to excerpts of what some students had to say:

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more video clips with you where McGill students describe assignments that have helped them learn. You might also be interested in reading student perspectives on AfL in Assessment for Learning: A student survival guide: for students by students.

McGill symposium on assessment

Do you teach at McGill? McGill instructors are invited to attend Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a university-wide symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. The event, organized by TLS and McGill’s Assessment and Feedback Group, a long-standing faculty learning community, will offer you opportunities to learn about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform your teaching practices. Through panel and round-table discussions, and informal networking, participants will share a wide range of strategies relevant across disciplines and applicable in both large and small classes. There will also be opportunities to reflect on the application of strategies to one’s own teaching context.

If you teach at McGill, register now, mark the date in your calendar, and join us for what promises to be a stimulating and informative exchange!

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series: References

Sambell, K., McDowell, L., & Montgomery, C. (2013). Assessment for learning in higher education. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Ebook available from the McGill Library.

Featured image: “My Life Without a Red Pen” by Rebeca Zuñiga under CC BY 2.0

McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous people whose footsteps have marked this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

L'Université McGill est sur un emplacement qui a longtemps servi de lieu de rencontre et d'échange entre les peuples autochtones, y compris les nations Haudenosaunee et Anishinabeg. Nous reconnaissons et remercions les divers peuples autochtones dont les pas ont marqué ce territoire sur lequel les peuples du monde entier se réunissent maintenant.