Ah, assessment. While complaining about my two-semester assessment course all of last year, I actually appreciate it today. I don’t quite grasp assessment enough to make a career out of it, but I know now that a career in higher education requires an understanding of assessment. And I don’t just mean knowing different research methods or spitting out definitions of external and internal validity. I mean understanding that assessment can be flawed, biased, and not necessarily helpful to student learning.
Assessment also comes in many forms. It’s grades, GPA, student demographic data, student engagement, student satisfaction, student involvement, etc. While it’s critical to assess all of these things and more, it’s important for educators to fully comprehend such assessments. To me, the biggest concern with any form of assessment is that a student is producing some outcome, whether it’s a paper to be graded or a answering questions for a qualitative interview, and that outcome can’t ever fully explain student learning. I get that it’s near impossible to perfect measuring something like learning, but I know we can do better.
I’ve loved readings and videos this week about motivation, because so much of learning comes down to motivation. A student may get a perfect score on a test, but if they weren’t genuinely motivated to learn the subject, it’s likely that they’ll forget all the information as soon as the test is turned in. When we’re “learning” to pass a test, it all comes down to memorization. Sure, grades are a motivating factor for many students, myself included. I work hard for the grade, but I work harder because I truly love learning and I want to benefit from it.
I’ll end with a personal assessment/motivation story: Sophomore year of college, I decided to minor in Economics. I hate math and I’m not good at it. But the conversations I had about economics in other classes intrigued me, and I wanted to pursue it. So I took my first class with a professor who I’d heard was extremely difficult but a great teacher. After struggling the whole semester, and ending with a B, I was confident I could keep going with economics. I suffered through the math components of my other econ classes, but still enjoyed learning the subject. My final semester of econ was coming up and I wanted to take one more class with that challenging professor. People tried really hard to talk me out of it, telling me most people fail or end up dropping. Well, I got a C in the class, barely. But the way that professor taught was more about facing a challenge as best you can than it was about acing the class. He graded tests fairly, and even gave credit to explanations of formulas when you couldn’t remember it. He showed me that learning (and grading) shouldn’t reward regurgitating information, but rather an appreciation of effort and thought. It killed my GPA, but it solidified my love of learning. Thanks Dr. Moul!