Assess the Experience

Initial Publication Date: July 30, 2010

There are two types of assessment, formative and summative, and they matter for both students and faculty. Undergraduate research teaches disciplinary practice and process, which makes the need for both forms of assessment important. Fortunately, undergraduate research lends itself to a wide range of both types of assessment activities.

Undergraduate Research Computer

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment activities are those that provide feedback during the learning process. They help us understand how students learn, which can help faculty modify teaching and mentoring to better facilitate learning. They can also help students themselves understand how they learn, creating opportunities for improved metacognition. Beyond student learning, in undergraduate research, it is critical to the quality of the research itself that students and faculty understand how all participants are grappling with their research challenges.

Formative assessment can take many forms. Furthermore, the feedback provided to students can be formal or informal, and it can come from the instructor, the student herself, or one of more of the students' peers. Here are some examples:

  • A student can share drafts or parts of a research proposal or research paper with an instructor for feedback prior to submitting a final paper. The draft can be returned graded and with copious comments, or the instructor can provide oral or written comments without assigning a grade. Another possibility is to allow students to workshop drafts with one another.
  • A student can maintain a reflection journal or a blog where she processes her thoughts on her research and her learning experience. The instructor can assign topics for any or all of these entries. These informal writing exercises can give the faculty member insight into the student's perceptions of the experience and can help students track their own growth in understanding the project and the research process.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment activities evaluate learning and product quality at the end of a learning experience. The end of the learning experience doesn't have to be the end of a semester or the end of research project. Summative assessments can be conducted at the conclusion of some or all of the stages of the research process. Here are some examples:

  • A student can write a research proposal in order to demonstrate her understanding the goals, significance, and proposed methodology of a project before implementing that methodology. This can be one graded assignment, and can be followed by another like the final paper itself or a presentation to peers, faculty, and interested parties.
  • A research project can be broken down into short-step assignments, each tied to a stage of the research process. For instance, to assess student understanding of data collection, students can be required to construct and describe the dataset they will use in their project, defining variables and showing and discussing summary statistics. This can be graded prior to advancing to the next stage of the research process.

Resources and Examples

The Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College has more information on assessment and on peer review.

The examples in this site's undergraduate research examples database employ a wide range of assessment activities and even offer some rubrics. Explore them, and see which may work best for your undergraduate research experience.