Resource: Bowles-Terry, M., & Kvenild, C. (2015). Classroom assessment techniques for librarians. Chicago, Illinois: Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.
One of the most common questions I’m asked as Learning & Assessment Librarian is how to quickly and effectively assess learning in the classroom. I always feel like my answers are unsatisfying, but the reality is that there is no perfect way to do this. When I went to Assessment Immersion a few years back, much attention was given to Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques, a giant tome full of assessment examples that I believe was referred to at one point as an “assessment bible.” While I agree that it’s a great resource (though perhaps not at the biblical level), it is also huge and sometimes daunting. Not all of the techniques in the book lend themselves to the kind of one-shot teaching we often find ourselves engaging in. All of this to say, I was excited to get my hands on the recently published “Classroom Assessment Techniques for Librarians.” Inspired by Angelo, the authors tailor various classroom assessment techniques (CATs… meow!) for the kinds of outcomes and learning situations that librarians often engage with.
Their model is to simplify CAT usage by breaking it down into three steps:
1) Plan. (Choose a session and a technique.)
2) Do it! (Explain to students that you’re going to be checking their understanding during the session, tell them why, provide clear instructions, and execute your plan.)
3) Respond. (This is the “closing the loop” part. Read and interpret student responses and address what you learn by letting students know what difference that information makes. An example of this is sending a follow-up email to the instructor detailing changes you’ve made to the course guide based on students’ understanding. You should also think about changes you might make to your instruction based on what you learned, and make specific notes for the next time you work with that class.)
The book is broken down into chapters based on the kinds of skills being assessed, and includes examples of CATs being used in various class types and levels. For this RIOT, I’ll give examples of a few that I’m going to try out this semester, and we can talk about things that you have tried/want to try, challenges and possible solutions, and anything else related to CATs (purring, claws, etc).
Assessing Prior Knowledge and Understanding
I used to sometimes send specific pre-assessment questions to classes to gauge where students were at, but eventually learned that first-year students (with the possible exception of honors classes) are almost always going to be all over the place. “CATs for Librarians” includes an example of using pre-assessment in a way I haven’t done before: asking questions before or at the beginning of class to find out about students’ conceptions on how information is available on the Web. Their example questions are as follows (pg. 8):
- “Google indexes everything on the Web” (answer choices in a Likert scale ranging from agree to disagree)
- “Information is free”
I love the idea of using this pre-assessment to not only find out more about students’ beliefs, but to set the tone for a session and let students know that we’re not just going to talk about where to click on the Libraries website. I can that this could be a way to introduce multiple threshold concepts, and I’m excited to try it out. I’ll probably use a Google form linked from classes’ Subjects Plus pages and have students respond as they enter the classroom and get settled.
Assessing Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking
After going through an explanation of what peer review is, I often wonder how much of my diatribe the students absorbed. This semester, I’ll try the “One-Sentence Summary” CAT (pg. 40). For this technique, students are asked “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” about a particular concept, in this case, “How do scholarly articles get published?” Bowles-Terry and Kvenild suggest that this technique works particularly well for difficult new ideas and threshold concepts, and offer examples using each of the frames.
A few notes on analysis
Bowles-Terry and Kvenild include the always-useful reminder that assessment is not the same as research. Your goal is to see what your students learned, not to draw sweeping conclusions that can be applied in other settings. Do make sure to set aside time to close the loop, but don’t feel like you have to spend hours carefully categorizing each student response. For some of the higher-level skills (like the “one-sentence summary” example above) it might be useful to score responses with a simple rubric, or even a yes/no checklist. Here’s a very rough “rubric bank” that I sometimes pull from to assess relevant CATs; feel free to use it if it’s helpful to you, but don’t get caught up in “doing it right.” Even if you don’t have time to utilize a rubric for analysis, you can learn a lot by sorting through student responses and thinking about how to respond (to students themselves and in your own teaching).
What CATs are you going to try this semester? What has worked well for you in the past, and what have you learned about your students using CATs?
p.s. We have a copy of “Classroom Assessment Techniques for Librarians in our collection, and TLS also has an office copy that I’m happy to share. There are many more ideas than I was able to address in this post, and I highly recommend browsing it. If you want to see the “assessment bible” itself, we have collection copies and an office copy of that one, too. J