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Assessing Project-based Learning

"Student projects are culminating experiences, activities designed to bring together a number of strands in a unit. As culminating activities, projects often consist of higher-order objectives, which are integrative in nature."

Ashton D. Trice, A Handbook of Classroom Assessment pp.202

Project-based learning provides students with the opportunity to tackle real world situations that by their nature have no easy solution, or have no solution at the present time. Project-based learning helps students to understand that sometimes one needs to be satisfied with asking the right questions rather that focusing on the "right" answers. Students learn to manage their time, interpret data sets, resolve value conflicts between group members and prepare and communicate the results of their investigation. In other words, they will use their experiences to learn to manage real life situations. The Yellowstone Fires problem-based learning module Yellowstone Fires (more info) engages students in defining a situation, gathering information on what is known and not known about the situation, developing an Earth Systems analysis and reporting on their recommendations. Because the tasks involved in Project-based learning are so varied there are several methods that may be used together to assess student learning. See the following section to see a specific example of using oral reports to assess student learning, or see the resources section below for additional assessment ideas.

Assessing Oral Reports

We all have a sense of what constitutes a good presentation and what constitutes one that is less than satisfactory. Assessing an oral presentation can be a very subjective endeavor, but with a bit of forethought, instructors can ease student anxiety surrounding oral reports and make the process of preparing for an oral report a valuable learning experience for the student. Organizing what elements need to be in the oral report also makes the task of assessing and substantiating student work easier.

Organization- Although oral reports will vary in length and depth of detail they generally follow a set structure. The advice regarding oral reports that I once recieved from a seasoned faculty member was, "Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them". Very good advice, but let's see if we can make it a little more specific. Good oral reports usually begin with the equivalent of a topic paragraph, a statement that will draw the listener into the substance of the talk. Then data is presented to support the assertions made in the opening stage of the report. Finally the report draws to a conclusion with a summary and closing statement.

Content- Oral reports usually have accompanying overhead transparencies or powerpoint presentation that provides the audience with visuals of data, supporting evidence and conclusions. The ability of students to make appropriate choices in what data they show varies with their experience in developing oral reports. This process involves several higher-order process skills. They must evaluate the data or information they have collected, make choices about what findings are and are not essential to the presentation and then organize their thoughts.

Presentation- Are students presenting oral reports that are highly organized and well researched? Are their presentations "stream of conciousness" reports that move from point to point without structure, or are they reading from a written page or from the powerpoint slides? Students presenting an oral report for the first time may be guided by a rubric passed out to students before they begin preparing their oral presentation. A sample rubric (Acrobat (PDF) 47kB Apr12 05) is available here.


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