I strongly believe that assessment should be made in many ways and at different levels. The goal of assessment is to make sure students are progressing with the learning objectives and to tap into how their learning is proceeding. They should not be stressful and it should be clear to students why the assessment technique is being used. I find that having “low-stake” assessment activities help students interact with the content of the course and keep them on track for meeting the learning goals. “High-stake” assignments are also important for tackling higher order learning objectives. For example, a final paper allows the student an opportunity to synthesize information from the course with literature from the field to interpret and discuss important findings. By breaking high-stake assignments up into smaller parts it is possible to make a 15 page report seem less daunting. Additionally, rubrics can be useful tools in making clear the expectations of a given assignment. Some examples can be found below.
The following are some of the assessment techniques I find useful:
Small group activities: These activities provide students opportunities to work with their peers to apply concepts from readings, lectures and previous discussions. Through this process students will teach each other to gain better understanding of the core concepts in microbiology and also apply them to new situations.
Group discussions and Team Based Learning: Guided conversations about readings and lecture material help to clear up questions and misconceptions about a variety of topics in class. Additionally, this allows students to build confidence and skills in speaking in a group and then relaying that information to the class as a whole. In the team-based learning approach, students take a quiz independently and then collectively in a small group. Once they submit their answers, they immediately have access to the correct answers and are given the chance to appeal an answer to a question if they can explain their answer, and think it is better than the answer I provided. This makes students individually responsible for the information that is presented to them, and they are accountable to their group for knowing the information which provides additional motivation to come to class prepared.
Poster project/presentations: Group work can have a bad reputation, but it is the way science is done and it’s important to learn to work in teams. Posters are also a very important method of science communication. Building communication and group dynamic skills will benefit students who plan to continue pursuing scientific research. Additionally it provides an opportunity to interact with primary literature and carry out research to synthesize information from a variety of sources. I also incorporate peer-evaluation and feedback into these projects which helps students think critically about another student’s work.
Final Report: Writing is also very important in science communication and many science courses do not have much focus on writing. Allowing students to pick a topic which fascinates them and then do research, synthesize it and write about it will be good practice. By having students check in at specific point throughout the semester to maintain a timeline I aim to make the writing process as smooth as possible.
Using rubrics for assignments can be very helpful for clarifying both to me and my students what the expectations are for a given assignment. This allows consistent assessment between students. Here are examples of two rubrics I developed, one for class participation which can be a very subjective issue to assess, and a second rubric for a final report.