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Assessment Strategies That Keep Students Engaged in Their Learning: Four Learners’ Perspectives

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In Spring 2023, we asked our four undergraduate student consultants from the CTL’s Students as Pedagogical Partners Initiative for their perspectives on what keeps them engaged with course content and in their overall learning process. In the following, they share their thoughts on assessment practices that motivate their engagement. The themes that surface in the students’ narratives are being transparent about expectations, allowing room for mistakes, offering multiple low-stakes assessment opportunities, and designing authentic assessments that are relevant to students’ lives.


Being transparent with students about expectations, especially if you’re trying something new in the classroom.

In my own experience, prior to entering higher education, I felt as if I had “cracked the code” to the education system and had a good grasp on how to learn and be assessed. In high school, learning and assessment were incredibly standardized and grades were valued above all, so I standardized my learning methods and became very successful with that. So whenever alternative assessment practices and new instructional methods were  introduced, I became frustrated with not only the class but also the teacher. It wasn’t until I had fully gone through the class and done some self-reflection that I realized that these new methods were used to help my learning, not to be to my detriment. Some things I believe my professors could have done to make the transition into these new methods easier is being transparent about the rationale and purpose behind new assessment methods – for example, going over prompts in class and allowing time for students to ask questions.  Also, allow room in the class for mistakes to be made and learn from. New assessment methods can be scary as students may have never engaged with them before and may not know how it is going to impact their final grades. So allowing room for the trial and error of learning the new method, like allowing a drop test or administering a practice exam, would greatly reduce students’ fear and increase their willingness to engage.” Emily Glover | Columbia College  


Breaking the stigma by communicating that failure is an essential part of learning and growth – we came here to get it right, not to be right.

Kyle Gordon

To truly learn, one must be willing to make mistakes. A stimulating learning environment, I believe, values diversity, equity, inclusion, and the possibility of failure. Failure serves as a foundation for innovation and imagination, making it a critical aspect of the learning process. 

I work best in a learning environment where I feel safe to explore unconventional ideas and take risks that I might otherwise avoid due to potential grading penalties. For instance, I’ve had the opportunity to revise and resubmit essays after receiving instructor feedback. Knowing I could do so gave me a sense of comfort and security to try out new ideas and create original content from existing material. As a result, I experimented with different writing approaches, which ultimately led to the creation of some of my best work. 

With less pressure, I feel fully engaged and capable of interacting with course materials dynamically. Thus, the key to my success as an engaged learner lies in an environment that promotes creativity and values original thinking, particularly one that acknowledges that failure (in the form of making mistakes) is integral to the learning process and personal growth.Kyle Gordon | General Studies


Offering multiple low-stakes and collaborative assessment opportunities.

What really engaged me in one of my courses is the different tasks that my professor designed for completing course assignments. It was helpful to use varied assessment methods to recall course content and synthesize it in short essays. Also, weekly problem sets helped test and build my understanding. I was encouraged to collaborate with my peers on the problem sets that were not graded on accuracy but on completion, and I was responsible for checking my answers against the answer keys provided by the professor after submission. 

Additionally, short online quizzes drew on previous readings, and the professor’s short video presentations preceded each lecture, preparing me for upcoming lecture content. During the lectures, I was directed to participate in survey questions relating to course content and engage in small group discussions to reach answers. This tested my comprehension and ensured class attendance and participation. 

These small tasks were all part of the complete course grade and seemed less daunting because of the manageable incremental workload. This offered a more stress-free approach to the course assignments where I learned from my mistakes. By completing varied tasks on a frequent basis, I became more used to engaging with the course materials in different ways and accustomed to being tested on it in exams, which occurred at multiple points in the semester instead of at the end, keeping me aware of my own progress over time.Jesper Norgaard | General Studies


Making connections inside and outside the classroom through authentic assignments.

Olivia Schmitt

When one enters the classroom, it can seem as though there’s an overarching expectation to become a new person, or at the minimum, reduce oneself to one aspect of one’s identity – solely, a student. In my personal experience, I felt like I needed to drop everything else going on in my life to meet my peers at the same level of focus and engagement during class. Especially after returning from remote learning during the pandemic, it became increasingly difficult to detach myself from any extenuating circumstances. 

Knowing that there can be this dissonance between the class curriculum and its place in the “real-world” context, I have found it helpful to have opportunities to connect my life to my learning. For example, assignments that direct me to engage with material outside of class gives me a chance to connect my learning to my interests and values. 

Most importantly, I am more engaged when the classroom welcomes students’ differing prior experiences and backgrounds, because this removes the anxiety that my background knowledge or experience may not be sufficient in order to succeed in the class. When I am encouraged to connect with my peers and learn from their diverse backgrounds, I feel comfortable bringing myself to the classroom as I am, and I feel a sense of agency in my own learning.  Olivia Schmitt | School of Engineering and Applied Science

Would you like to learn more about how to assess student learning? We invite you to visit the CTL resource “Resources for Assessing Student Learning” which outlines relevant resources on topics such as designing assessment, setting and managing student expectations, and grading and giving feedback.