Assessment and Feedback

Chapter 4 of Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley talks about assessment and feedback. Her point is that learners need to know how they are doing, and how they can improve. 

Essentially, this is why they are taking classes. Teaching is not just about providing information (through textbooks, videos, handouts, etc.) Teacher value comes from observing, analyzing and providing feedback that enables learners to improve and know how to improve (pg. 28-29).

The two main types of assessment are:

Evaluations for grades
Assessments for progress and to enhance learning
Occurs at critical points in the learning process (e.g. mid-term; final exam)
Considered a part of the course instruction and is done through participatory tasks
Evaluated with a score
Evaluated by providing feedback
Once an evaluation is complete, it is added to the students record; typically no opportunity for change
Activities tend to add to the learning process (i.e. tasks link together as more of a process)
Can be viewed as threatening because the end result is more absolute
Tends to be viewed as a non-threatening approach because the focus is on feedback
Methods include: Test/Quizzes, Semester Projects, Demonstrations or Performances
Methods include: Student Critiques, Focus Groups, Interviews, Reflective Practice, Surveys and Reviews

The downside to viewing assessment in mainly these two ways is that they are rarely designed to be truly authentic. Assessment should be designed to represent the real-world challenges facing the learners in the classroom, whether in tune with their personal interests, workplace challenges, current events, etc.
The best way to ensure that assessment is authentic, an element of problem-solving should be evident. Test questions, as a form of summative assessment, should take the knowledge gained and have it applied to a situation.

For example, you are teaching a course on Sales Strategies. Look at the following test questions and identify which one you think is a more authentic for of assessment.

A)    List the 5 strategies for up-selling discussed in class.

B)    You work at a shoe store. A woman comes in and starts browsing the boot section.  You help her pick out a pair of leather boots based on a conversation you had with her where she told you about her current boots falling apart. Your goal, as you walk her to the till, is to sell her an additional item. What questions can you ask her? What can you show her? (5 marks)

Option B gets the students thinking about the situation where their knowledge can be applied. This option also provides more opportunity for the teacher to provide feedback because the answers can be directly related to the situation. The student will be able to visualize the feedback and reflect on how to add this new information to what they already know. 

Here are some steps to approach and improve assessment, modified from Fenton & Watkins, 2008:
  1. Identify the learning outcome
  2. Select an assessment technique that will measure the outcome, but also connect to the real-world
  3. Apply the assessment technique
  4. Analyze the results with students and provide an opportunity for student feedback
  5. Respond to the results and implement any necessary change in teaching strategy or course content


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