Mona Monfared: Assessment of Student Learning (COVID-19)

Assessment of Student Learning in Remote Teaching and Learning Contexts

A catalyst for lasting changes.

By Mona Monfared, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Molecular & Cellular BiologAssistant Professor of Mona Monfaredy

Q: How have you reconsidered your (course level) assessment plans in light of the remote teaching and learning context? 

A: While remote instruction has been challenging on many levels, I have found it has pushed me to improve my assessments and the quality of my instruction has also improved. I have made three changes in my approaches to assessment of student learning.

Moved to Open-Book Exams

I’m teaching an upper division biochemistry class (BIS103: Bioenergetics and Metabolism) that typically has an enrollment of 200-380 students, and in-class multiple choice exams make up the majority of the summative assessments in the course. This quarter, I decided to continue to use multiple choice exams, but I made them open book Quizzes on Canvas. I was initially worried about academic misconduct, but, with the help of a stellar TA (Matthew Marquis - BMCDB graduate group), we wrote a collection of questions for the first midterm that were, by and large, questions that would be difficult to “just look up.” I was concerned that students might text or call each other and share answers, but in hearing from students on this matter on our discussion board (Piazza), I was convinced that with the number of questions, the time allotted, and the fact that the questions were in a unique order for each student, there just wouldn’t be time for students to inappropriately collaborate.

The average score for our first midterm tracked well with previous quarters, and I found that the experience of having to write questions for an open book exam nudged me to create more higher order Bloom’s level questions and move away from questions that relied solely on memorization. While students still need to know foundational knowledge to answer these questions, they wouldn’t be able to do well on the exam if they had to look everything up. Moving beyond having students focus on memorization is a goal of mine for the course.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how adapting to assessment during remote instruction helped me toward a goal I already had.

Incorporated Group Projects

I do, however, want the students to collaborate in the course, even though they are working remotely, so I have another summative assessment that can be a group project if they elect to do it as a team, and this low-stakes, creative summative assessment occurs at the end of the course.

Using Canvas in New Ways

Another goal I always strive toward is to make my courses more inclusive, relatable, and engaging. Metabolism can be a daunting subject, but it is intertwined with many of our everyday concerns and interests, so I find the course content to be a great way to connect with students. Because I can't see my students as I usually do and interact with them, I have a weekly survey in Canvas (a "graded survey" in Canvas Quizzes) that has a mix of formative assessments, questions to encourage metacognition, and invitations to share opinions on the class and other things. I then make a weekly video in response.

This has been so successful that I will do this from now on, even after we return to in person instruction.

With little effort, I can see answers to questions for all 200 students, and I feel like I know more about my students than I usually do. 

By using this Canvas Quiz function for this purpose, I get to answer their questions, whether they are on content or personal things, which is what I like most about teaching. I can do some of the formative assessments I normally do in class (like a muddiest point/clearest point activity) and make supplemental videos to address the particular issues that come up. I have also asked students things like what their biggest challenges have been since going to remote instruction and how they have worked to overcome them. It gives us a way to connect, and I can let them know what I have been experiencing and share what I have learned from them. Students have responded well to the survey, thanking me for asking for feedback "and actually using it." One student recently commented: "Thank you for asking us to fill out these surveys; I really feel heard in this class." And in this time where I can't be in the same room as my students, it means even more to me that students feel like their voices are being heard.

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