Faculty Discuss New Tools for Assessment, Feedback & Grading at Faculty Roundtable

By Cecilia Lo

On November 14, Andrew Junker, Collegiate Assistant Professor, and Jim O'Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Organismal Biology and Anatomy, led a discussion with faculty from across disciplines on New Tools for Assessment, Feedback and Grading in a Faculty Roundtable, co-sponsored by the Chicago Center for Teaching and ASTS. The purpose of the Roundtables is to discuss good pedagogical practices and encourage instructors to share effective pedagogical tools.

Traditionally, instructors assess students’ learning through a summative test or assignments.  In this Roundtable, faculty discussed ways of assessing student learning to provide ongoing feedback for student learning (a.k.a. formative assessment).  Andrew shared a collaborative assignment he designed to help undergraduate students in his sociology core class grapple with a particular difficult reading from Marx’s The German Ideology. And Jim talked about how he used digital media, online labs and tests to improve an important core skill for medical students.

Two of Andrew’s pedagogical goals for his sociology core class are for students to learn to discuss collaboratively and become intellectually independent.  The challenge for reading philosophical texts, such as the passage from Marx’s The German Ideology, is that the content is often very hard for students to grasp.  To help structure students’ engagement with the text and discussion in class, Andrew creates a two-part worksheet, where he asks students to explain Marx’s argument in part 1 and provide a critical response to Marx’s ideas in part 2. Here’s Andrew’s assignment (download the assignment in Word format):

Short Assignment #1: On The German Ideology
Answer either question #1 or #2 in 250 words or less. Be as concise and complete as possible. You do not need to use quotations, but please cite page numbers when relevant. Then do Part 2.

Part 1: Questions (choose one):
1. "The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals" (149). What does Marx mean by this statement? What is the significance of it for the historical account he provides in this text?

2. How does Marx account for human knowledge and self-understanding?

Part 2: Critical Engagement
In 250 words or less, provide your own critical response, positive or negative, to Marx's ideas, as you've summarized them above.

Turn in your completed assignment in class on Tuesday.

Students are required to complete the worksheet prior to class; during class they are to form into groups and comment on each other’s work.  Both their responses and comments are graded.  Andrew has found that this exercise helps students extract important quotes from their reading and write better term papers.  He also notes that this simple assignment accomplishes multiple pedagogical purposes:  it enables students to practice analytical skills, develop a higher order engagement with the text, and learn to be an independent thinker.  It serves both the students and the instructor well because it is a low stake but productive exercise—it is a short write-to-learn exercise that constitutes only a small percentage of students’ overall grade, but students can use it to build towards one of their term papers. An added bonus is that the assignment creates good student work without adding much to the instructor workload, since it does not require extensive grading.

Jim’s medical students are focused, motivated, and skilled but they come from diverse intellectual backgrounds. The goals of the basic science curriculum in medical school are to get everyone to learn the “normal” anatomy at the tissue and bodily scale, and use the appropriate scientific vocabulary for clinical conversation. For this purpose, Jim leveraged Chalk Learning Management System to streamline digital media, online labs and tests to improve medical students’ learning of histology. Everything students need to learn histology—texts and reference material (text book, image, atlas), labs, and quizzes—are on Chalk in one place, accessible to students 24/7 anywhere. While online assessment is not as flexible as paper exams, where instructors can ask more open-ended questions that measures levels of understanding, it enables frequent quizzes that target specific learning goals. The advantage of such online assessment is that it allows Jim to gather real time data on student progress, target those who need help before they fall behind and target specific areas for remediation. With these online exams, students only have to relearn and retake a specific test and not the entire course.  Given the class size (88-90 each year), Chalk’s automatic grading allows instructors to focus on teaching and helping students who need additional support.

Join the Next Conversation

Faculty Roundtables will continue in the winter quarter. Check back on ASTS’s website later in December for dates, topics and RSVP information.