Learning Assessments

Assessments are activities that enable students to make their learning visible so that it can be documented and feedback can be provided. Assessments complete the course design loop, providing evidence that students mastered learning objectives by engaging in the learning activities of the course. This section reviews best practices in learning assessment.

Make assessments meaningful.

Assessment is not synonymous with “written exam.” There are many different ways to assess student learning, including, but not limited to, projects, presentations, papers, and direct observation. A meaningful assessment is one that entails validity and authenticity.

Validity refers to the extent to which the assessment actually measures and documents what you want to observe. Authenticity refers to how close the assessment resembles what students will experience when applying their new knowledge in a real-world context.

In many situations, considerations of validity and authenticity will overlap. Before settling on a multiple-choice examination, consider your course narrative and learning objectives. How could the student best demonstrate that they are ready for the next level? Your learning architect or instructional designer can help you shape your big idea into something feasible.

Include formative and summative elements.

Research indicates that students learn best when they encounter frequent, low-stakes assessments that provide them with the feedback necessary to plan the next steps in their learning journey. These formative assessments can be used to inform summative assessments—i.e., cumulative or capstone activities that provide evidence that students are ready to leave the topic area or progress beyond the course.

Diversify approaches to assessment.

A high-quality course will include diverse assessment types for several reasons. First, high- quality learning objectives typically involve different types of learning and application. While content-driven objectives may align perfectly with written quizzes or essays, skills- or process- related competencies will require some kind of direct observation.

In addition, different students excel in different assessment contexts or scenarios. Providing a variety of opportunities (or even choice) for academic success is inclusive and consistent with universal design for learning.

Diversify evaluators in assessment.

It is common for faculty to assume that they must shoulder all the work and responsibility of assessing student work and providing feedback, but research suggests that this is not necessarily accurate or beneficial. Students must learn to assess their own work and that of their peers before they enter the workforce. When done well, peer and self-assessment (PSA) provides high-quality assessment for students while teaching them important life skills and reducing the burden on faculty.

Choose the appropriate assessment instrument.

Projects, papers, presentations, and other demonstrations will require an assessment instrument (e.g., rubric, rating scale, or checklist) to help standardize documentation and feedback across student work. The choice and design of an instrument deeply affect the faculty and student experience of the assessment in terms of ease of use, accuracy and quality of evaluation, and how students learn from the assessment experience. While rubrics provide the most informative and highest-quality feedback for students, they are not appropriate or necessary for every assessment context. Take time to learn about different instruments and consider which ones will best fit the purpose and needs of the assessment.

Additional resources

Select the following links to learn more about choosing the right assessment approaches for your course:


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