Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Improving the match between objectives and assessment

Yesterday one of the biology instructors presented to the rest of the first-year instructors the results of an analysis she'd done.  She wanted to find out whether the 'learning objectives' we developed and are trying to follow match what we actually assess in our midterms and final exams.  The issue wasn't so much about their content as about their level of difficulty, which she scored using the 'Bloom's Taxonomy' scale.

What she found was that our exams ask more of our students than they would expect from the learning objectives we give them.  Even our multiple choice questions are quite challenging, mostly requiring a lot more than simple regurgitation of factoids.  This is good in that we're assessing learning at the level we want, but bad in that we're not telling students the truth about our expectations

The cause of the discrepancy is that we are all relatively new to writing learning objectives. When we wrote them (as a committee) we focused more on content than on what we wanted our students to be able to do with the content.  We knew enough to use 'performance' verbs like describe, list, and explain rather than 'state' verbs like know and understand, but we needed to also use words like predict, interpret and deduce.

The instructor fixed the objectives for us - she went through all of them (about 50!) and rewrote them to reflect what we are actually assessing.