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Hallmarks of Effective Assessment

The Analogy Between Maps and Assessment

If you have ever taken a road trip, you recognize the utility of maps. We can hardly expect to get to our destination without knowing where we started from. Maps allow us make our journey from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible. Assessment is a lot like using a map. It allows us to:
  • know where our students are conceptually before we begin a learning activity.
  • decide the most efficient way for them to meet the learning objectives we set.
  • measure their progress and/or achievement of the learning objectives.
To continue our map analogy, just as knowing that different colored lines on the map represent the difference between a major highway and a dirt road can help a map user plan an easier journey, there are a few "eternal truths" concerning assessment.
  • Your students will value and focus on material that will impact their grade.
  • Their motivation to learn will increase if you tell them "up front" what skills and content will be assessed with clearly stated learning objectives.
  • Always align your assessment to the learning objectives of the activity.

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are the building blocks to conceptual content knowledge and the skills that enable students to build their own understandings of geoscience. Learning objectives are measurable statements of what students should recall, understand and be able to do as a direct outcome of a particular learning activity. Each learning activity students engage in has at least one learning objective. Some activities will have more than one. Learning Objectives are defined as what you want the students to know or understand after they have finished the learning activity. The learning objective could be an important geoscience concept such as the sequence of crystallization in Bowen's Reaction Series, or it could be a method of collecting data in the field, such as using a Brunton Pocket Transit to measure strike and dip. Deepen your understanding of how learning objectives are linked to assessment by viewing a short case study. Click on the following link to see how to assess your learning objectives using a variety of assessment strategies


Huba, Mary E. and Freed, Jann E.(2000) Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, Massachusetts. Chapter 1 provides a systemic overview of assessment and the role of learning outcomes in the process.