How do I Assess a Learning Outcome?
How do you know students have achieved each
learning outcome in a course, program or activity? An assessment is a tool which measures student performance during and/or after a learning experience. Efficient and effective assessments result in usable data that can inform improvement of student learning. A few examples include essays, final exams, practical demonstrations, observations, projects or surveys.
When choosing an assessment, it’s important to match it to the verb used in the learning outcome. Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning tells you what type of activity will demonstrate the knowledge, skill, or ability you want to measure. A good assessment is appropriate for the verb.
Bloom’s Taxonomy Pyramid by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
CC BY 2.0
A lower level verb like recall or identify can be measured with a simple assessment.
Outcome: Students will be able to recall a certain policy
Assessment: Matching questions in an exam
Outcome: Students will be able to identify campus resources to help them be successful
Assessment: Student survey
A higher level verb such as apply or reflect will require a more robust assessment.
Outcome: Students will be able to analyze the results of a lab test
Assessment: Lab report
Outcome: Students will be able to reflect on the personal and social implications of their behavior
Assessment: Applying a rubric to student conduct meetings
Performance skills are generally measured through practical exams or direct observation.
Outcome: Students will be able to construct a window frame
Assessment: Practical exam or project
Formative and Summative Assessments
Formative Assessments give timely feedback on student performance to help them as the course/activity progresses. How can they improve going forward?
Summative Assessments come at the end of the learning course/activity to measure their achievement. Did they reach the goal(s) stated in the learning outcome(s)?
Direct and Indirect Assessments
Direct assessments involve looking at real samples of student work or performance to measure achievement of an outcome. Learning is observed, displayed or demonstrated.
Examples: Exams, quizzes, papers, direct observations, projects, performances, portfolios, presentations, clinicals, practicums, internships
Indirect assessments take information gathered in other ways. These often measure students’ opinions of their own learning. Learning is self-reported, described or perceived.
Examples: Surveys, self-reflections, journals, polls, focus groups, interviews
Although indirect measures are not as strong because they are self-reported, they add to the complete picture of student learning.
Using Assessment Data
The data collected in assessments are not only useful for students, but also provide priceless information about the learning experience itself. How can you improve this course/activity/program in the future? What parts of its design need attention? It could be the structure, materials (textbook), assessment (exam questions), or something else.
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