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General Information

Evidence-based teaching and learning requires assessment of desired student outcomes as a central component. Assessment is the process in which both students and instructor get feedback on what students have learned and what is their level of understanding vis a vis the goals of the course.
  • For example, in “Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers” Angelo and Cross note that assessment should be designed to give both students and instructors feedback:
    • Students get feedback on their own learning which can provide opportunities to reflect up what they know and what they need to work on
    • Instructors get feedback on how much the students are learning which can be help them reflect on what aspects of the instruction can be improved to help students learn better.

By this definition, assessments should be viewed as formative rather than summative, and, if used frequently throughout the course, they can greatly improve the knowledge students have about the course material, since they provide many opportunities for students to reflect on their learning consistent with course goals. In addition, frequent assessment can help the instructor get real time feedback on the effectiveness of instruction which can be used to refine and tweak instruction to address difficulties.

 
Examples of formative assessment:
  • Using personal response (clicker) questions: students given time to think and respond
  • Small group work
    • Can select one student from various groups to talk on behalf of the group
    • Reduces anxiety about participating (students being afraid to be wrong in front of the whole class) because one student is speaking for a group
  • Minute paper: students spend a minute or two to work on a specific task
    • Collect and discuss several representative answers (can do at beginning of next class)
  • Precede in-class demonstrations with questions which guide students to focus on the concepts and processes exemplified by the demonstration
  • Give students opportunity to correct their exams (note: exams are summative assessments, but feedback from exams can be used by students to repair their knowledge structure and improve their study strategies which can improve their subsequent learning)
  • Asking students to summarize main points of a lecture (either at end of one, or beginning of the next one; can be done through clicker questions or free response, minute-paper type tasks)
  • Asking students to periodically write about material or concepts they find difficult
  • Exercises to connect material learned in various chapters to overarching ideas
  • Many other examples (which may or may not be applicable to natural science classes, or large classes) are available here
All of these examples of formative assessment fulfill at least in part the following criteria:
  • They provide students with an understanding of the goals of the course because the activities that they engage in communicate instructor’s expectations (I expect that you are able to solve this problem, complete this task etc.)
  • They provide student with feedback on where their understanding is with relation to the course goals as communicated by the instructor
  • They provide the instructor with feedback on where the class is with relation to the course goals
  • They make students active in the learning process effectively reducing the amount of time students sit passively while receiving information
    • They are paying attention to what they are learning and getting quick feedback which helps them improve their understanding early (as opposed to after a test) 
These examples suggest an important lesson regarding formative assessment: Integrating significant use of formative assessment entails a close scrutiny of all aspects of an instructional design. Formative assessment is an integral part of instructional design!
 
For more information on formative assessment see:
Before implementing evidence-based teaching and learning one should compile a list of what initial knowledge do students have, what measurable goals are intended to be achieved via the instructional innovation and think carefully about how to design instruction aligned with the initial knowledge of students and course goals and scientifically assess the extent to which each goal is achieved. In essence, one should ask the following questions:
1. What is the initial knowledge of the students that is relevant for instruction (content-based initial knowledge including alternative-conceptions, problem solving and reasoning skills, mathematical skills, epistemological beliefs, attitude, motivation, self-efficacy etc.)?
2. What should students know and be able to do?
3. What does proficiency in this course look like?
4. What evidence would I accept as demonstrating proficiency? What evidence would be acceptable to my colleagues?
5. How can I design instruction that builds on students’ initial knowledge and takes them systematically to a final knowledge state which is commensurate with course goals?
6. Are the initial knowledge of students, course goals, instructional design and assessment methods aligned with each other?
 
A typical goal of a science course is to provide students with a firm conceptual understanding of the underlying knowledge.
  • It is therefore not surprising that discipline-based education researchers in many disciplines have developed assessment instruments designed to assess students’ conceptual understanding.
    • The data from these instruments can be used to assess the initial knowledge of the students if administered as a pre-test before instruction and inform what students learned and what aspects of the material were challenging if given after instruction as a post-test.
    • These data can help improve instructional design, e.g., by pinpointing where more attention should be focused to improve student learning (if the post-test is administered right after instruction, it can serve as a formative assessment tool and if it is given at the end of the term, it can still be helpful for improving learning for future students).
 
Another goal (perhaps less typical) is to improve students’ attitudes about the nature of science and learning science and provide them with an understanding of what science is and what it takes to be successful in science courses.
  • To this end as well, discipline-based educational researchers have developed assessment instruments that are either discipline specific or about science in general.
In addition, education researchers have developed instruments to assess the classroom environment which can provide valuable data pertaining to the experiences of students and how they perceive an instructional innovation. Such data can be used to refine an instructional innovation and improve the classroom climate.
 
Also, in many science courses, students are expected to develop good problem solving strategies and to this end, instruments have been developed to assess students’ attitudes and approaches to problem solving.
 
Here, we provide information about some assessment instruments that have been developed in the fields of Physics, Biological Sciences, Mathematics, Chemistry and Computer Science education. This information is by no means comprehensive, but it is intended to provide a starting point for thinking about assessing teaching effectiveness and investigating the extent to which various instructional goals are met by implementing a transformed course.
 

If we missed some assessments developed by discipline-based educational researchers, please let us know at dbserc@pitt.edu.