assessment

Nuanced assessments: More than the final grade

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Howell JacksonHowell Jackson, James S. Reid Jr. Professor of Law, experiments with end-of-semester exams and writing assignments to create opportunities for meaningful, formative feedback through skills practice, reflection, and peer collaboration.

The benefits: Jackson has experimented with multiple choice questions, most recently in Introduction to Securities Regulation, requiring students to select options such as “Clearly no” and “Probably yes” and then write short essays

Setting up effective feedback loops: The role of assessment in course transformation

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

McCarty and DeslauriersLogan McCarty, Director of Physical Sciences Education, and Louis Deslauriers, Director of Science Teaching and Learning, adopted an active pedagogy for a large introductory physics course and saw significant gains in student learning and attitudes. Assessment played a role every step of the way

The benefits: By explicitly stating the course learning objectives and designing complementary in-class activities, they created effective feedback loops – the activities helped students assess their own understanding, and according to McCarty, “more importantly, the instructors got feedback on how students are learning.”

The challenges: Defining course learning objectives can “feel awkward. It feels artificial. And the value is not immediately apparent,” McCarty admitted. “But it is essential for creating effective assessments.”

Takeaways and best practices

  • Revisiting learning objectives may expose invalid assumptions. When the instructors tested an elementary concept from the course prerequisites, they found that many students did not in fact understand it – crucial feedback that, McCarty said, “in six years of teaching this subject, I had never seen before.”
  • An exam can be a powerful learning opportunity. Immediately after each midterm exam, students completed the same exam in groups of three, accounting for 20% of their score (though not penalizing those who scored higher individually). “The level of engagement is like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” Deslauriers observed. “It’s very intense.”
  • Combining active learning and feedback eliminated final exam failures, a phenomenon Deslauriers has witnessed in five similar course transformation efforts. The shift also benefited top performers (the percentage of students finishing above 90% on the final exam jumped from 5% to 12%).

Communicating course culture: Beyond the syllabus

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Karen Brennan

Karen Brennan, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, designs her syllabus for T550: Designing for Learning by Creating to not only communicate the plan for the course, but to introduce students to the course culture.

The benefits: Her use of quotations, images, and color appeals to the various ways that we engage with text, and gives students (many of them future instructors themselves) a glimpse of their upcoming course experience. Drawing on other forms of expression expands the possibilities for communicating the aspirations and intentions for the course.

The hiccups, humility, and benefits of deciding to flip a course

This post is republished from Into Practice, a biweekly communication of Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning

Margo SelzterMargo Seltzer, Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science, flipped part of her course, CS161, “Operating Systems."

What is a flipped classroom? Reversing the typical lecture and homework components of a course – students engage with video lectures/online materials in advance to free up class time for more experiential or hands-on activities.

The benefits: She’s sold on the benefits of flipping – significantly more student engagement, a better synthesis of the different parts that comprise a course, and more engagement with the students who can benefit most from instructor feedback.