Assessing ourselves and our students can be a valuable tool in furthering everyone’s education (Fink, 2013). Unfortunately, too many classes wait until the final exams and end of course evaluations to do any data collecting, and by then there is no more time to address concerns (Nilson, 2010).
Value to Learners
Twenty years ago, I was on my way through college seeking a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology. One class was on comparative anatomy. I enjoy learning how and why things work, so I did quite well in that class. I received an A on all the tests, including the final. I was surprised when my final grade on the course was a B. I went to the professor’s office during his office hours only to find him gone, but the grades for a major project were posted by the students’ ID numbers on his office door. I scanned through the list and found that I had scored a C, and with that project counting 40% of the total grade, that explained my B for the course.
What had gone wrong? Why was my score so low? I thought I had followed all the directions and done all the right things but apparently not, and because there was never feedback on the assignment, I never learned why.
During my second round through college, I worked on a post-baccalaureate in elementary education and maintained an A average for the entire two years. In one class, the feedback from the professor was generic. I received comments like “Good job! Keep it up!” Although that was encouraging, I was not sure what it was I was supposed to keep doing. In the end, I had more information in my head, but I really did not gain much from the class.
A second course had multiple little assignments, and the feedback on each was detailed and provided me not only with a description of things I did well but also things that I needed to work on. The grading was much more involved, and for the first time in that degree plan, I had to work hard for that A. I learned more from the second than from the first.
Frequent formal or informal assessments can be a great benefit to students by letting them know if they are on the right path or if they can improve by changing specific things. That would be kinder and more effective than waiting until the very end of the course.