What are Students Learning in Your Course? Strategies for Assessment

Friday 1:30pm-4:00pm Ogg: Phillips Lounge
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Karl Wirth, Macalester College
Karen Viskupic, Boise State University
What do we mean when we ask if students have "learned" something? Are some kinds of assessments better suited for specific kinds of learning? What are the purposes of assessing learning? This workshop will focus on what we want students to learn and how we know when they have learned it. Beginning with the end in mind, participants will first explore goals for student learning. Next the group will consider a variety of ways for assessing student learning, including: gauging prior knowledge; providing feedback to improve learning; and evaluating learning at the end of a unit. Participants will leave the workshop with drafts of several instruments for implementation in their next course.

Presentation Media

EER Assessment mini workshop slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 11.1MB Jul22 16)


The goal of this workshop is to explore several novel approaches to assessment for improving and evaluating learning. Specifically, by the end of the workshop, participants will:

  1. Be able to articulate clear and assessable outcomes for student learning
  2. Know how to construct and implement a knowledge survey in their course
  3. Understand the goals and design of exam wrappers
  4. Know how to write graduated test questions than span different levels of thinking and learning


This workshop will involve brief introductions to some theory but will focus mostly on application. We will discuss several models of assessment, look at examples of instruments and student work, and prepare drafts of new assessments for our own courses. Therefore, it will be helpful for participants to focus on a particular course that they teach, or are planning to teach, during the workshop. Although not necessary, if you plan to work on a course that you already teach, you may want to bring to the workshop the course syllabus, old exams, or other assessment activities.

1:30 Welcome and Introductions

1:40 Why Do We Assess? To help set the stage for this afternoon's work, we begin with a brief conversation about the goals of assessment.

1:50 What Do We Assess: Aligning Assessments With Learning Goals. In order to design relevant and authentic assessments, we first need to be clear about our goals for student learning. Given the enormous amount of content and skills in a course, how do we decide what to assess and how to assess it? Participants will each write several learning outcomes for a course.

2:15 Assessing Prior Understanding: Knowledge Surveys. How do we know what knowledge and skills students bring into our courses? How do we signal the learning that we expect? Knowledge surveys, which consist of detailed learning outcomes, not only provide an efficient way of gauging prior knowledge, but they also help to focus and direct learning during a course. After a brief introduction to knowledge surveys, participants will write several knowledge survey questions and examine student data.

2:45 Assessing to Improve Learning: Exam Wrappers. What happens when that has been tested has not been learned? How do we help students to learn the material more deeply? How do we help them to adopt strategies for deeper learning? Exam wrappers provide an opportunity for reflection and improvement. Participants will examine an example exam wrapper and consider how it might be adapted for one of their courses.

3:15 Assessing Understanding: Graduated Tasks. Traditional quiz and exam questions, by their nature, generally target relatively low levels of understanding. When students don't perform well on a high-level task, how do we know just what they do understand? With the intentional design of a series of questions around a single concept, each requiring different levels of reasoning, we can better understand the scope of student understanding, and help them to improve.

3:45 Concluding Discussion. Before we break, a short pause for reflection about assessment and opportunities for student learning. Are there other assessment ideas that haven't already come up in the course of our conversations? What will you do differently in your next course?

3:55 Workshop evaluation

4:00 Adjourn

Notes/Discussion from workshop:

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