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How Do We Know Our Students Are Learning?

Sep 24 2013

You’re teaching a class, and it seems that everything’s going well. The students are nodding attentively, and when you ask if there are any questions, there aren’t. “Do you understand?” garners lots of nods and “yes” and “you bet!” responses. Then, a couple of weeks later, the students take the first exam, and based on their test answers, they didn’t really understand, after all.

Has this ever happened to you? How do we really know that our students are learning what we are teaching?

Many of us use traditional methods such as tests, quizzes, exams, and papers, reports, or projects to test student knowledge and skill acquisition. These “high-stakes” activities - that is, activities that comprise a large part of the course grade - usually gives us an idea where our students are and if they understand the material.

Ideally, we should be giving our students opportunities to practice using their new knowledge before they get to these high-stakes assessments, and giving students feedback about their learning far enough in advance of the tests that they have an opportunity to revisit the material, and often enough that they can gauge their own progress.

There are many types of “low-stakes” activities we can use, for example:

  • problem sets;
  • short essays analyzing or synthesizing course content;
  • smaller components of a larger project (such as an annotated bibliography or an outline as a preparatory stage of a research project); and
  • class discussions.

Here’s the problem: grading all that student work takes time, and providing thoughtful feedback takes even more time. And we all know that feedback isn’t very useful unless it comes promptly. Plus, class discussions don’t let us assess everyone, only the students who participate actively.

Here’s a solution: We need an efficient way to track student learning, and one that gives students feedback at the same time would be ideal. There are a number of easy-to-use techniques that allow you to assess your students learning, and that can easily be integrated into your teaching. Many of them are easy to develop, easy to implement, and easy to evaluate.

The Center for Teaching and Learning is offering an online workshop about student learning, and I invite you to participate. Some of our NYIT faculty will be joining in as ‘resource people’ and discussion facilitators providing their expertise and insight into the issue. Specific topics will include:

  • benefits of using classroom check-in techniques
  • when to check in with your students and why
  • some simple classroom check-in techniques to get you started
  • additional resources

The workshop is asynchronous, meaning that you can read the materials and reply to emails at your convenience. All you will need is a web browser and an email account. Here’s how it will work: On October 21, resources will become available on the web. Participants will then have a conversation by email for 1-2 weeks. Our goal is to bring faculty together from all our campuses, so we can explore the topic from all the cultural and societal frames of reference that comprise NYIT.

I hope you will join us! Please register to receive the link to materials and to be added to the email list. The registration link for the workshop is at: http://goo.gl/L9u9SW

Author: francine_glazer