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Some Ideas on Supporting Student Learning Through Assessments

Professor points to whiteboard
First week of spring semester, campus scenes, studying, Allison Corona photo

Designing effective assessments plays a crucial role in course design, as assessments provide evidence of student learning and can be used to inform instruction. Meaningful assessment ties to what students are learning/doing in the course and helps them see how learning in the course aligns with what they would be practicing in their future professional life/work. Therefore, aligning assessments with course learning outcomes is vital for student success. One way to align assessments/assignments with learning outcomes and make that alignment transparent, is to use transparent assignment design – to make the purpose, tasks, and criteria clear.

Do you remember a time when, as a student, you experienced a course assignment or assessment that made you excited about the topic? What about this task made you excited? Was it the way the assignment/assessment was designed? Was it the way it was presented/explained? Was it the instructor’s enthusiasm about it? Was it the way you were allowed to demonstrate your learning? As an instructor, what if you could design clear assignments/assessments that excited your students and helped them to learn better?

Assessments can be formative or summative in nature and purpose. Formative assessments are primarily aimed to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback. They are opportunities for students to identify their strengths and weaknesses, to fill in gaps in learning. For instructors, formative assessments provide an opportunity to recognize where students might be struggling with the goal of addressing problems as they arise. On the other hand, summative assessments occur at the end of an instructional unit or course, are often high stakes (e.g. major project, exams, paper etc), and gauge students in terms of their overall learning as compared to a standard. Both forms of assessments require careful design considerations, if they are to support student learning. Transparent assignment design is an assignment/assessment creation strategy that makes the purpose, task, and criteria of an assignment/assessment clear to students. It can be used to design both formative and summative assessments.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) workshop titled “Supporting Student Learning Through Assessments” was geared towards helping instructors see the alignment between course learning outcomes and assessments that help students learn formatively and summatively. Instructors discussed and reviewed the Transparent Assignment Design Template to reflect on how/if their course assignments/assessments were designed transparently. Based on the discussions and some prior research done by the facilitator, the following strategies emerged that might be of use to instructors who are seeking to help students succeed, by aligning course learning outcomes with assessments:

  1. It takes time and practice to build alignment between assessments and LOs, so work incrementally to review and revise assessments/assignments in your course.
  2. Make sure that your students are prepared to complete the summative assessment by building in preparatory scaffolding activities that build up to the final assessment.
  3. Provide detailed and frequent feedback on formative assessments. This helps students know where they stand and helps them address gaps in their learning.
  4. Remember assessments can take place outside the classroom! Experiential learning assignments/activities, projects, internships, and community work are some examples of non-traditional summative assessments.
  5. Give students ownership of their learning and provide multiple ways to demonstrate learning. Use universal design to create assessments/assignments.

Designing a perfect assignment/assessment takes time, energy, experience, and expertise. You may not be able to revamp your entire course(es) in one go. Take small but purposeful steps, talk to like-minded colleagues, and reach out for help to more knowledgeable people on campus and beyond, for assistance when needed. The educational developers at the Boise State CTL would be happy to provide one-on-one consultation to ways to improve your course design. Book a consultation here.




More and Less Transparent Assignment Examples

Why should assessments, learning objectives, and instructional strategies be aligned?

Transparent Methods – ways to make your assignments more transparent

Transparency in Learning and Teaching project

Written by:

Devshikha Bose