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Resources for Assessing Student Learning

How well are students learning what you want them to learn in your course? How do you provide effective feedback to further their learning and growth? What are some ways to encourage students’ self-assessment and peer-assessment of their learning?

This page outlines relevant CTL resources and programming (text-based resources, podcast, videos, workshops, self-paced online courses, etc.) for designing and implementing assessment in your course. 

On this page:

The CTL is here to help you navigate these resources and find ways to apply them in your own teaching. Please request a consultation with us by emailing CTLFaculty@columbia.edu.

1. Designing Assessment

Design your assessments to allow you and your students to gain an understanding of students’ learning progress. Consider engaging in the following opportunities to learn more about designing assessments for learning. 

[Workshop] Addressing Challenges to Equitable Assessment: As part of the anti-racist pedagogy workshop series, this session helps participants identify several common challenges to equitable assessment, as well as possible strategies to address these challenges as they arise. Please visit the CTL calendar for upcoming sessions.

[Video] Assessing Student Learning – Course Design Essentials:

Assessment design is part of broader course design. The framework of “Backward Design” suggests aligning one’s assessments with course learning objectives so that the learning outcomes drive the planning of assessment as well as learning activities. As part of the online, self-paced Course Design Essentials course, this video presents assessment practices that promote learning and reflection questions to guide your assessment planning.

[Online Resource] Designing Assignments for Learning: This resource shares examples and tips for designing assignments that promote academic integrity and encourage students to make meaning and demonstrate their learning in authentic, creative, and innovative ways.

[Video] Provost Teaching and Learning Grants: The Assessment and Evaluation Plan:

While this video is intended for Provost Teaching and Learning Grant applicants, it presents a useful assessment and evaluation framework that can be applied to classroom teaching beyond the Provost-Funded Projects. Two resources (Assessment Methods Handout & Assessment and Evaluation Plan Worksheet) mentioned in the video are available for your use in your assessment planning and design.

2. Setting and Managing Student Expectations

Ensure that everyone in your course understands your assessment approach by communicating your expectations and values. Establishing community agreements can help manage student expectations of course assessments and promote academic integrity. Consider engaging in the following opportunities to learn more about setting and managing student expectations.

[Online Resource] Principle 2 of Inclusive Teaching Guide: Set Explicit Student Expectations: This page introduces strategies that can be used to set explicit student expectations for your course and practicing learner-centered, inclusive, and equitable assessment. Strategies like clearly articulating assessment criteria and providing timely feedback ensure that students are set up to succeed in your course.

[Online Resource] Promoting Academic Integrity: While it is each student’s responsibility to understand and abide by university standards towards individual work and academic integrity, instructors can help students understand their responsibilities through frank classroom conversations that go beyond policy language to shared values. This resource offers strategies to create a learning environment that stimulates engagement and design assessments that emphasize learning over performance, which can minimize the incidence of academic dishonesty.

3. Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are quick, low-stakes assessments that can be administered in class or asynchronously online (e.g., via CourseWorks Quiz or CourseWorks Discussion). Examples include:

  • Background Knowledge Probe: Administering a questionnaire at the beginning of each unit or lesson
  • Muddiest Point: Asking students, “What was the muddiest point (unclear or confusing) in today’s lecture, discussion, etc.?”
  • Minute Paper:  Asking students at the end of class, “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and/or “What important question remains unanswered?”

For more examples of CATs, see Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (Angelo & Cross, 1993) and Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty (Barkley & Major, 2015). 

CATs can be used throughout a course to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding and receive feedback on their performance, thus allowing them to make adjustments prior to completing higher stakes assessments. See Hanson and Florestano (2020) for more information on the effectiveness of CATs in promoting student learning. Consider engaging in the following opportunities to learn more about additional tools and strategies for quick, simple classroom assessment.

[Online Resource] Active Learning for Your Online Classroom: Five Strategies Using Zoom: Many active learning strategies can double as assessment strategies. This resource describes how you can promote active learning and assess student understanding in an online or hybrid class using various Zoom features.

[Online Resource] Audience Response Systems: Assessing student learning in real time during class by using audience response systems (ARS), such as Poll Everywhere and Zoom poll, helps both instructor and students make adjustments as needed. This resource reviews getting started with Poll Everywhere, the Columbia-supported ARS, and offers recommendations for integrating ARS into your courses. For a guide on developing questions to use with ARS in science and engineering courses, see Developing Poll Questions to Engage and Assess Student Thinking in Science and Engineering Courses.

4. Involving Students in Assessment

When students are involved in assessment, they become more aware of their own learning progress and are able to develop metacognitive skills. Through peer review or self-assessment, students have the opportunity to develop their critical thinking and metacognitive skills by monitoring their own learning. Consider engaging in the following opportunities to learn more about involving students in assessment.

[Online Resource] Metacognition: Metacognition, sometimes described as “thinking about your own thinking,” refers to knowledge about one’s own thoughts and cognitive processes as well as the cognitive regulation involved in directing one’s learning. This resource (specifically under the section “Teaching for metacognition”) shares strategies for instructors to activate students’ metacognitive skills and involve them in self-assessment (e.g., 1-minute reflection paper, exam wrapper).

[Online Resource] Peer Review: Intentional Design for Any Course Context: The process of peer review can help students make purposeful and intentional choices in their own work by offering their perspective and insight to their peers. It also gives students an opportunity to see how others have responded to a similar prompt, text, or assignment, which can help their own understanding of the topic or assignment grow. This resource offers a guide for instructors developing peer review activities in their classes.

5. Grading and Feedback

Grading and providing feedback can be overwhelming and there are ways to make the workload manageable. Consider engaging in the following opportunities to learn more about considerations and tools for grading and feedback. 

Considerations for Grading and Feedback

The following resources discuss considerations to make in order to communicate your grading process to your students with clarity and transparency and to provide feedback that is targeted and focused on student learning.

[Online Resource & Workshop] Feedback for Learning: Providing students with targeted and focused feedback that they need to incorporate in subsequent learning activities gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. This resource offers strategies to make giving feedback easier and more effective. Note: The CTL also offers a Workshop To Go on the topic of this resource, as well as an in-house 60-minute workshop, please check the CTL calendar for upcoming workshop dates.

[Online Resource] Feedback for Learning in the Science Classroom: Three undergraduate student consultants, part of the CTL’s Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative, share that receiving feedback is valuable to their learning and that they would benefit from more opportunities to learn from their mistakes as well as guidance on how to improve.

[Online Resource] Incorporating Rubrics into Your Feedback and Grading Practices: Rubrics allow instructors to clarify what they are looking for in student work and make these expectations explicit to students. This resource provides an overview of the benefits of rubrics, strategies to help integrate them into teaching practice, and introduces a few Columbia tools to support rubric design and use.

 

Tools for Grading and Feedback

The following resources highlight Columbia-supported instructional technologies such as CourseWorks (Canvas) and Gradescope that can help you streamline creating and administering online assignments, efficiently grade large numbers of quizzes and exams, and choose from multiple options for providing feedback to students.

[Self-Paced Course & Workshop] Assessment and Grading in CourseWorks (Canvas): Enroll in this self-paced course to learn about assessment and grading tools in CourseWorks (Canvas), Columbia’s Learning Management System. Throughout the course, you will learn the what, why, and how of effective assessment and grading practices to support teaching and learning. Note: The CTL also offers a 90-minute workshop on the topic of this self-paced course, please check the CTL calendar for upcoming workshop dates.

[Online Resource & Workshop] Creating Assignments and Grading Online with Gradescope: Gradescope is a tool designed to streamline and standardize the grading of paper-based, digital, and coding assignments. Gradescope allows for handwritten assignments to be graded digitally, and for multiple graders to collaboratively develop and implement their grading rubrics. It supports problem sets and projects as well as worksheets, quizzes, exams, and papers. This resource walks instructors through the process of using Gradescope in their courses. Note: The CTL also offers a 90-minute workshop on the topic of this resource, please check the CTL calendar for upcoming workshop dates. 

[Online Resource] Creating Online Exams: Implementing online exams creates a new set of considerations for the instructor. Instructors may need to change methods and content to fit the online context, and may have questions about how to administer exams fairly for every student and maintain academic integrity. This resource shares how instructors can use CourseWorks (Canvas) tools, options, and settings that can help implement exams efficiently and fairly and make the exam experience positive for both instructors and students.

[Online Resource] Grading in Online Courses at Columbia: Tips and Strategies: This resource is structured by common grading needs and provides “how to” details using CourseWorks (Canvas) and Gradescope. You will find guidance on:

  • Grading large numbers of quizzes or exams efficiently
  • Standardizing grading and feedback among multiple graders
  • Grading handwritten submissions
  • Giving feedback by video, audio, or online text entry
  • Modifying exams, quizzes, or assignments for student accommodations

6. Rethinking Your Assessment Methods

There are a lot of “dead ideas” when it comes to assessment and grading practices in higher education. Such practices (e.g., grading on a curve, relying on a few high stakes exams to assess learning) without evidence to support their effectiveness should be questioned. Listen to the following podcast episodes to learn more about rethinking your assessment and grading approaches. 

[Podcast] Assessment For and As Learning with Jonathan Amiel and Aubrie Swan Sein (Season 2, Episode 1):

In this episode of the CTL’s Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning podcast series, guest speakers Jonathan and Aubrie discuss the changes in the assessment methods they have implemented in order to assess their students’ learning more equitably and authentically at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons.

[Podcast] Dead Ideas in Grading with Jenny Davidson (Season 1, Episode 5):

 In this episode of the CTL’s Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning podcast series, Jenny discusses why she chose to give all of her students an A in Spring 2020 and why, even outside of the pandemic setting, she has long been resistant to the conventional practices of grading.

[Podcast] Ungrading with Jesse Stommel (Season 2, Episode 2):

In this episode of the CTL’s Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning podcast series, Jesse unpacks why he supports ungrading, a deliberate assessment practice that “suggests that we need to do intentional, critical work to dismantle traditional and standardized approaches to assessment,” and explains how it promotes student learning. He also shares steps that listeners can take towards ungrading in their own classrooms.

References

Angelo, T., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H. (2015).Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Brookhart, S.M. (2004), Assessment theory for college classrooms. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2004(100), 5-14. 

Hanson, J.M. & Florestano, M. (2020), Classroom assessment techniques: A critical component for effective instruction. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2020(164), 49-56.