Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Assessments as Instructional Tools

Something that came up in class started a train of thought on assessments. Charles mentioned the use of assessments as instructional tools. We discussed the general lack of this in education and some of the complications of doing so. Despite some of the complications, with all the tools we have, this seems a little silly. An institute of higher education exists to instruct and facilitate learning. All too often a student goes to take their test and then never looks at it again (unless there is some way to get more points by looking at it afterward or if they know it will help them in some cumulative final). I can remember classes where I just wanted to take the test, see my score and be done with it. The testing center is set up perfectly to reinforce that idea; no feedback is provided, you can't look at the test after it is graded unless the professor returns it. Therefore the only learning gains from a test is the preparation. It seems this usage of assessments represents an incorrect focus in learning, meaning the assessment is geared toward the institution's and professor's benefit rather than the student and learning. Perhaps it is due to administrative ease, or to create an obstacle to cheating, or save on/ compensate for a lack of resources. Either way they rarely help a student really learn. In my opinion formal teaching has much more bang for its buck when there is a pattern of pre-teaching preparation on the part of the student, the actual instruction, and then lots of follow up. In my experience in a training setting this model is very effective. Perhaps I would even go so far as to say that the follow up is where most of the learning gains (50%) and experience happens because it involves the application of what was learned. The pre-training and training can be split various ways to make up the other 50%.

So with that said it seems that assessments in some ways should be part of the training or teaching piece rather than the follow up. This would mean that the post-assessment activities and application of what was learned would be the key follow up where most of the learning would happen. Any thoughts?


Charles Graham said...


Peter Rich said...

I guess as an undergrad, I was a different kind of student. I was really interested in finding out and discussing what I missed. In fact, there's one linguistics professor that I asked for a final back and he promised it to me but never gave it. I bothered him about it for years. I think he threw it away or just didn't want to bother digging it up. To this day, I think I figured out the right answer, but don't know for sure. I want to know!

MikeGriffiths said...

In response to Peter's comment, it may be indicitive of the attitude that permeates our education system. Your professor who did not give you your final back, was not focused on your learning experience, but the course completion experience, which are not necessarily the same thing.

So how can we be expecting students to care about their learning more than their grades when the messages they get from teachers is that learning is not important.

So I agree with what has been said, and I try to make assessment a learning process when I teach. Feedback designed for enhancing learning is the way I have been describing it, but I am sure there is already a term in use for such a principle.

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