Rates and Time > Assessing Learning

Assessing Temporal Thinking and Learning

This web page is based on a document produced by Peter Berquist, Brett Dooley, Noah Fay, Marguerite Forest, Kathleen Gilbert, Francis Jones, Pamela Nelson, Ilyse Resnick, Steve Semken, Phil Stokes, Cara Thompson, Karen Viskupic, and Maria Waller at the 2012 workshop on Teaching About Time.


The first step in assessing temporal learning is establishing a set of measurable learning goals. One way to write measurable goals is to use very clear verbs and focus on actions. "Students will understand geologic time" is difficult to assess. In contrast, "Students will be able to use Steno's principles to interpret the sequence of geological events evident in a cross section they have not seen before," focusing on an action students should be able to perform, suggests its own assessment. Writing measurable goals, such as this one, requires that you carefully think through and articulate exactly what knowledge or skill you want your students to exhibit or perform. As a result, developing strong learning goals is often an iterative process, involving some refinement each time you teach a course or subject.

Once you have a list of learning goals, you can choose from existing assessment instruments or develop your own.

Existing Assessment Instruments

There are many instruments that already exist, designed to measure students' temporal thinking and learning. You may find that one or more of these are already well-matched to your learning goals, or that modifications would allow you to use them to measure your students' learning.

Developing New Assessments

If you find that you need or want to develop your own assessment instruments to measure temporal learning, here are some suggestions on how to get started.

If you have written an assessment related to time, please share your assessment and we will add it to our collection.


Dodick, J. and N. Orion (2006). Building an understanding of geological time: A cognitive synthesis of the "macro" and "micro" scales of time, in Manduca, C.A. and D.W. Mogk, eds., Earth and Mind: How Geologists Think and Learn about the Earth: Geological Society of America Special Paper 413, pp. 77-93.

Johnson, J. and S. Reynolds (2005). Concept Sketches - Using Student- and Instructor-generated, Annotated Sketches for Learning, Teaching, and Assessment in Geology Courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, p. 85-95.

Libarkin, J.C., and S.W. Anderson (2005). Assessment of learning in entry-level geoscience courses: Results from the Geoscience Concept Inventory. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, p. 394-401.

Semken, S., Dodick, J., Frus, R., Wells, M., Perry, D., Bryan, J., Williams, M., Crow, R., Crossey, L., & Karlstrom, K. (2009, November-December). Studies of informal geologic time learning at the "Trail of Time" in Grand Canyon National Park. Informal Learning Review, 1(99), 1-5.

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