Stop, Improve, Start is a six-part series that looks at current trends and research to help faculty, instructors, and education and training providers meet the evolving needs of students. Three Things About Assessment is the second instalment in the series.
- Stop using multiple choice examinations. They are not inclusive, they put some learners at an advantage over others, and they are generally not effective at enabling sustained learning or the application of learning. While low cost and efficient for large classes, multiple choice exams are unreliable because students easily find ways to cheat. There are better and more effective ways to assess learning — and they cause less anxiety.
- Stop thinking of learners as being somewhere on a bell curve (sometimes called a “normal” distribution) in which some are at the top, some are at the bottom, and a big bunch are in the middle. There is not a lot of evidence that this is an appropriate way to think about students. In fact, several studies show most groups of learners have a few high performers, a broad range of average performers and a long tail of others. This is known as a “power-law distribution” or the long tail.
- Stop worrying about cheating. It has been with us since the Ming dynasty began testing for the civil service, and it is a function of our design of assessment as well as the student’s motivation to succeed and their fear of failure. When we design assessment differently, cheating becomes nearly impossible. We create the conditions that encourage and enable cheating, so we should stop doing so. Rather than investing in more and more expensive surveillance systems, change the design of assessment.
- Improve the use of project-based and collaborative assignments. The future will require more teamwork, more engagement with peers and more collaborative activity. Make this part of the work all students have to do and assess them not just on what they produce, but how they worked together to produce it. Use a team assessment tool to do this.
- Improve your use of authentic and activity-based individual assignments. Ask students to demonstrate, present, perform, evaluate, blog, keep a journal or undertake a specific task and evaluate them on this work. The assessment should require them not simply to show that they have understood something, but they can apply that understanding to a “real-world” situation.
- Improve your use of online adaptive assessment tools that are built into learning management systems to help students progress at their own pace toward the learning outcomes for your course. Some of these tools are easier to use than others, but the big idea is that each student will progress at different rates and through different routes. You can make it happen.
- Start making use of peer-to-peer review and assessment. There are now excellent tools available (e.g., kritik.io CLAS, compare, peerScholar) to enable and support this work, and students are tough on each other — often tougher than instructors. It is also a helpful way to improve assessment rubrics and to secure learning gains. Students soon recognize what they know and don’t know from assessing the work of peers.
- Start seeing assessment as being about both what students know and can do and their soft skills: critical thinking, teamwork, problem finding, communication, adaptability, emotional intelligence.
- Start seeing feedback and co-assessment (self-assessment and your assessment) as more important than the grade. Ask the student to use the rubric to assess their own assignment, then offer feedback both on the assignment and their self-assessment.