This is the 4th 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:
- Using the lecture
- Using the tutorial
- Using online quizzes
- Using mastery pathways
- Using online discussion boards
- Using groups
- Using participation
- Using analytics
Using the tutorial
The tutorial is very much the place to check for learning. In the much smaller populated room, the tutor can use techniques that are known to be effective in a regular classroom, including using worked/completion examples, asking lots of questions, and wandering the room when students are solving problems to check progress. As the very wise Tim Klapdor suggests, ‘tutorials are not a time to lecture students or introduce new concepts.’
1 Using Worked and Completion Examples
Worked examples are priceless in learning. The lecture ideally was full of many completed examples related to the topic, each part of the example deliberately verbally narrated to help students begin the process of either connecting the new content with existing schema, or actually building new schema. The tutorial is now the place where the tutor can assess where the students currently sit on the learning continuum, and this will determine the stage of worked example they present.
To begin the session, the tutor may present a problem of similar ilk from the lecture. If students appear to not be secure in their knowledge the tutor will realise that the schema is not established sufficiently for any independent work. The image below from Sweller’s Efficiency in Learning captures the progression necessary to develop the relevant schema and move learners from novice to expert/independent.
The narration of processes involved in solving problems must now take place. The tutor articulates their own schema in this process, providing a live model for students to capture in their own memory. It is this captured memory they will draw from later to solve similar problems. In this way, learning is truly constructivist. Consequently, through logic, this stage can’t be rushed, or worse, bypassed, as it is by those those who conflate the epistemology of constructivism with a method of teaching, rendering learning to a free for all of unscaffolded inquiry, inquiry that inevitably fails as students exhaustively scramble to locate relevant connections in their minds that simply aren’t there.
To further deepen the memory of the worked example, students should complete paired examples at this point. This means that they are provided with a completely worked solution and one to solve that is analogous to the one presented. The key here is analogous. It must be of the same difficulty and according to Engelmann, differing in as few elements as possible. This allows students to build the required schema that can then be transferred to similar problems later.
Once students are able to do this, then they move onto the completion problems, where a solution is only partially completed and they have to finish it. Eventually, after sufficient practice that helps to automatise the processes, the established schema allows a multitude of problems to be able to be solved. It is here they have become expert in the topic, and are able to inquire about it independently and creatively.
Preventing plagiarism – I’m a huge believer that success motivates success, and when students are confident and succeeding in solving problems, they will do it as often as possible without anyone else’s help. They won’t cheat because the feeling of getting things right and understanding concepts is a far better feeling than simply getting the grade by itself. All it takes is to honour the learning continuum, identify the extent of students’ schemata, and support their development using examples. I talk lots more about this in the online assessment posts, because it is online where plagiarism can be difficult to stop.
2 Asking Lots of Questions
Effective questioning is a powerful way to assess for learning. 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 as they search their minds for connections to previously encoded information. By doing so it is quite easy to gauge the knowledge of a tutorial sized group. By carrying out this formative assessment you will be able to direct the next sequence of learning with far greater precision.
3 Wandering the room checking for understanding
These opportunities would present themselves at each of the worked example stages. Initially, the extra guidance afforded to the student could be enough to make a final connection to understanding if it hasn’t sunk in yet, or it could be, at a latter stage, a chance to deepen thinking by asking more open ended questions and applying them to different contexts.
By the end of each tutorial, your assessment for learning and the modifications you make to teaching as a result would have facilitated the development of relevant and necessary schema in your students’ minds.
The tutorial could then be used as a means of assessment, with you providing a grade for participation as well as solved problems.
- The participation will almost be tokenistic, but you will know that the easy marks rewarded are merely a superficial representation of the greater significance and incentive for their attendance and work ethic: the development of schema.
- The latter quarter of the tutorial (or perhaps a whole tute after several tutorials of practising) could also be assigned for the testing of students independently solving problems. The final 5 minutes would be peer marking from your displayed answer sheets so you don’t have to do any marking, only the recording of their grades.
The next post discusses how you can adapt to a virtual tutorial.
I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer. Follow me @edmerger