My own undergraduate experience, which was so long ago that we didn’t even know the word “blog”, was full of midterm and final exams. But of all of these tests, I remember only one: my Introduction to Biology final. I remember it because it was multiple choice questions from the exams we had taken over the term. They were literally copied and pasted (because we did have THAT technology, even then) from the other exams. It was the best grade I ever got on a final, because back then I was really good with rote recall. All of the other exams that I took blend into one memory. One gigantic ball of stress. Neither of these models really helped me learn the material. I know now that all of my professors had pretty significant learning objectives for me, but I had no idea what they were.
So now comes the really hard, ask yourself in the mirror question: Does your final exam reflect the learning objectives that you set for your course? If not, you’re not alone.
Here at WPI, “alternative assessment” is being explored in a number of different ways. I use quotes because I’m not using the phrase in it’s truest sense, but really just to mean “assessment that isn’t a midterm or final exam.” Here are just a few conversations I’ve heard on campus and off in the past few months. Named are withheld to protect the innocent, but if you see yourself here, comment below and I’ll edit the post!
1. Daily (or almost daily) quizzes: on paper, online (e.g. myWPI), or with clickers. These quizzes are typically short, and reflect the content the students are responsible for that week. Instructors are using the quizzes to gauge the topics for the next lecture, how much of the reading students are actually completing, and how they are progressing through the subject content. These are probably the most popular example of low-stakes assessment.
2. Weekly essays: Quizzes that are given online or with clickers can remove some of the grading burden from the faculty member. Some instructors find that using this opportunity to assign students work that is a little higher on the Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid can be feasible and effective.
3. Social media: One faculty member told me that her students needed to post about a topic on Facebook and report back on the ensuing conversation that happened within the student’s own social circle. Another asks students to Tweet about the week’s readings – with very specific requirements and parameters. It’s sort of like opening your course discussion board up to the big, wide world. If you’re interested in trying this, let me know! We have some tips to share!
4. Final presentation: Okay, I know this is not a new idea. Final presentations are great because they force a student to synthesize knowledge, present it coherently, and maybe even reflect. However, one complaint that I hear often is that final presentations take up too much class time. One alternative might be to ask your students to record their presentations. By using the Echo360 Personal Capture system, students can record their screen, voice and webcam if you’d like. They can upload the video directly to your myWPI site, though this does require some setup. Contact us if you’re interested!
5. Peer assessment: Many folks work with a summative peer feedback process because it is so integral to our curriculum. Others also have found a formative peer feedback process to be a great tool! It helps both the assessed and the assessor, because students are forced to reflect on the assignment criteria and apply it to their own work as well. A friend of mine suggested the EBI rule: e.g. “This work shows a clear understanding of the concept. It would be Even Better If you applied the equation to a new situation.” A reminder that feedback should help the person take action to improve – the benefit of getting feedback before you’re done! (Thanks, N!)
What other strategies are you finding work for you?