This is the third in a series of blogs on assessment, which forms part of a larger series of blogs on the importance of starting strong in higher education and how academics can facilitate it.

Even though the nature of higher education makes it harder to formatively assess, it can be done. Below is a list of sources of data that a tutor can use to triangulate their understanding of where a student sits on the learning journey, and importantly, whether what they think they are teaching is actually being learnt:

  1. Using the lecture
  2. Using the tutorial
  3. Using online quizzes
  4. Using mastery pathways
  5. Using online discussion boards
  6. Using groups
  7. Using participation
  8. Using analytics

Using the lecture

In a large lecture theatre it can be difficult to continuously check for learning. You may have asked the odd question previously, but got an answer that most in the room couldn’t hear, and realised that in the process many other students lost interest. However, asking questions in lectures very much can help in assessing for learning. It’s also all about expectations: if you set the bar high and focus on metacognition by explaining your process from the word go, and make the lecture an active learning space, students, who are very used to this in school, will play the game.

To get the most out of asking questions in a lecture theatre, there are 4 strategies to use.

1 Get good at asking questions

The key to effective questioning is to ask, wait for students to process the question, and then check a number of answers before saying if the answers are right or wrong. Repeat the questions at least 3 times during the processing stage. Allowing time for students to think about the answer gets the retrieval process activated. When an answer is given, repeat it out loud – ask for a show of hands if they think it is correct before you say it is or isn’t. If many get it wrong, it tells you that that section may need to be retaught.

2 Get students to write down their answers

Sure, some won’t and you can’t really check, but lots will and they will benefit from the retrieval process. Again, a show of hands before revealing the actual answer is a powerful indication of understanding.

3 Use technology

Technology for the sake of it is pointless. But it can be an effective way to assess learning in a large class. Echo 360 has a question function that allows you to pose questions during a lecture that students answer on their phone or laptop for you to collectively see on the main screen. If you set this habit up early in the course students will engage with it. There are other apps too that achieve this: @goformative, (see image below) @padlet, @socrative@peardeck @nearpod. The answers on the main screen allow you to quickly assess understanding, correct common issues, or discuss particular answers that are interesting or thought provoking. Some students may not get involved, but you could quickly gauge how many answers you have with the number in the room and prompt the recalcitrant with a reminder that their participation grade is triangulated. Even if you only do this once a session to assess the key concept taught, it will be very useful.

using tech to view students work in ‘real time’

4 In lecture quizzes

Again, utilising tech, set up quizzes during the lecture to test understanding of the KEY CONCEPTS. If most get the answers correct, then you can proceed. If most get them wrong, only the intransigent would continue as planned – the wiser tutor would reteach the section.

As discussed in the this post, Graham Nuthall talks of the need to expose students to content at least 3 times for them to process it effectively. Even if you don’t engage the retrieval process, referring back to key content numerous times in lectures and over subsequent lectures is a powerful way to provide that access. Also, asking rhetorical questions is effective as it will still stimulate the retrieval process in many of your student’s minds.

The next post will discuss using tutorials effectively.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer. Follow me at @edmerger

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