All effective course design begins by identifying what we want students to take away (learn).
Once these learning goals have been identified, we are in a position to describe what they would look like in practice. Align assessments with your outcomes to meaningfully evaluate student progress toward achieving the stated learning goals. In other words, what would student work look like if they fully understood “sample bias” or “the dominant narratives about Latin American development” or “how to communicate data effectively” or “how to identify and analyze the main argument of a scholarly paper?”
If we can articulate what the learning outcomes should look like, we have gone a long way in communicating our expectations to the students (and we have incidentally created the high-end column of a rubric). If student work looks the way we have articulated, we feel satisfied that they have mastered the concepts and material of the course.
The next step is the most enjoyable because it deals with what kinds of learning activities we can create where students will have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned. Questions at this stage are:
- “What teaching methods will work best?”
- “How can they use their new thinking skills to demonstrate mastery?”
- “What will get them most engaged with the material?”
After the activities have been developed, we can look back at the language we created for how we want the learning to look to create both formative and summative forms of assessment. One of the best ways to communicate learning expectations to students is to have them use the descriptions for how the learning should look to give feedback to each other about their progress.
Designing 21st Century Assessments
What is the purpose of assessment in the 21st century classroom? Testing, as a traditional means of assessment, is important. But is it still the flagship measure of learning?
More and more we are seeing a shift away from testing and toward more authentic tasks, collaborative assignments, experiential and service learning projects, or problem-solving challenges as the preferred assessment methods. Why? There are two important reasons.
First, memorizing knowledge and facts is less critical now, because information is available everywhere at our fingertips. Second, application-based assessment methods can effectively enhance learning and increase retention.
So our challenge is to measure outcome-based learning by asking students to use knowledge in innovative and creative ways. We can develop assessments that measure higher-order critical thinking and analytical abilities with rich, meaningful, and collaborative tasks that mirror the 21st century workplace. How do we achieve this? We can take assessment to the next level by redefining learning outcomes. For example, in addition to the outcomes of “explaining” and “determining,” we can add high-level thinking outcomes such as “creating,” “planning” and “evaluating.”
The following video describes some of the global impetus behind this shift.