Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Barbara Walvoord's assessment advice

This week Barbara Walvoord lead a couple of workshops at the Augustana Campus on program assessment and how to make grading more efficient. What I found interesting is that she advocated for teaching and learning strategies that are embedded in team-based learning (TBL): have the students engage with the material before coming to class; use class time for students to practice applying the material and providing feedback to them on their progress. This describes the Readiness Assurance Process and Application portions of TBL. It is also a version of the flipped classroom. Here is one description of the flipped classroom from Educause, however, it views flipping narrowly involving replacing a traditional face-to-face didactic lecture with an online lecture. In contrast, I consider required readings to be superior to supplying video recorded lectures and a technique to flip the classroom (old-fashioned but effective). As I have been learning for the past couple of years from Bligh's book What's the Use of Lectures?, Weimer's book Learner-Centered Teaching, and How Learning Works by Ambrose et al, student learning increases when students become engaged with the material and are held accountable for being responsible for learning the material for discussion and application in class. The evidence suggests that the traditional lecture is not quite as good as reading the textbook for information transfer (Bligh 1998) and that for students to become engaged in the material and their own learning processes, they must be given time in a safe environment where they are able to practice applying the material under the guidance of an instructor and with the support of their peers (Weimer 2013Michael 2006Prince 2004)Basically the research supports what Dr. Walvoord was telling us for the last couple of days in her workshops. Students learn better/deeper if they attend to the rote learning outside of class before class, are held accountable for that learning during class, and class-time is used for student practice of applying their learning under their supervision and guidance of their instructors and in collaboration with their peers. There are many different teaching and learning strategies that would fall under the category of active learning. TBL is but one example; here is how it is developing in my classroom.

One of the reasons that Dr. Walvoord was promoting active learning strategies and flipping our classrooms was that this would decrease the amount of individual grading that faculty must do to provide feedback to our students. We still need to provide feedback, but if done within the classroom, it will decrease the amount of out of class grading that we, as instructors need to do. Kimberly Tanner recently published an article describing the history of grading and some alternatives to traditional grading that support the ideas Dr. Walvoord was promoting in her workshops.

In addition to encouraging faculty to use active learning strategies in our classrooms, Dr. Walvoord additionally emphasized the importance of developing students' metacognitive abilities. Instructors can aid student engagement with course material leading to deeper learning by helping students ask critical questions about their own learning process. We need to prompt our students to help them think about their thinking - we need to help them consider how they learn and how they might improve their learning. This is what I learned from Augustana's eportfolio pilot a couple of years ago and lead me to write a short piece for the Teaching Professor on developing students' learning philosophies. A couple of articles that delve into how to promote metacognition and the evidence suggesting that this promotes student learning may be found in this article by Kimberly Tanner and a book chapter by John Girash.

Finally, assessment is not something that we should fear and avoid. The more I learn about program assessment, the more I understand that it is about gathering evidence of how well our students are learning what we teach them so that we are able to adjust our teaching practice such that our students' learning outcomes improve. Something that we discussed at my workshop table was the value of gathering different kinds of evidence: that students' self-reports were interesting from the point of view of learning what students thought they had learned, but that we also needed to compare that with instructors' assessment of students' performance of the skills we purport to inculcate in our students. We need to understand what students think they are learning to ensure they align with what we intend to teach our students. If those two are different, then we have a problem - students' expectations of their learning outcomes will not match instructors' expectations and that will lead to disappointment for everyone involved: students, teachers, and administrators. Gathering evidence of students perceptions of their own learning and comparing that to their performance of the skills learned will enable us, as educators to revise our teaching practices, whether that be what or how we teach, such that student learning is improved.

And that is in everyone's best interests.


Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK. 2010. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. San Francisco, CA. [UofA faculty, staff and students may access this as an e-book through our library's EZProxy here]

Bligh, Donald. 1998. What's the Use of Lectures?, 5/e. Exeter (UK): Intellect. [UofA faculty, staff and students may access this as an e-book through our library's EZProxy here]

Girash J. 2014. Metacognition and instruction. In: Benassi VA, Overson CE, Hakala CM, editors. Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum. Society for the Teaching of Psychology. p. 152–168.

Haave N. 2014. Team-based learning: A high-impact educational strategy. National Teaching and Learning Forum 23(4):1–5. [UofA faculty, staff and students may access this article through our library's EZProxy here]

Haave N. 2014. Developing students’ learning philosophies. The Teaching Professor 28(4):1,4.

Michael J. 2006. Where's the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education 30(4): 159-167.

Prince M. 2004. Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education 93(3): 223-331. [UofA faculty, staff and students may access this article through our library's EZProxy here]

Schinske J, Tanner K. 2014. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE-Life Sciences Education 13(2):159–166. 

Tanner KD. 2012. Promoting student metacognition. CBE-Life Sciences Educaction 11(2):113–120.

Walvoord BE. 2015.How to Make Grading Time-efficient and Useful for Learning. Augustana Faculty Fall Workshop. Camrose, AB. [podcast]

Walvoord BE. 2005 July. Explaining the reasons for criticisms of students’ academic performance. IDEA Item #7.

Walvoord BE. 2005 July. Giving tests and projects that cover the most important points of the course. IDEA Item #12. 

Walvoord BEF & Anderson VJ. 2010. Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college, 2/e. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer M. 2013. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, 2/e. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.