Assessment of Student Learning
This page is dedicated to course materials that I've developed to assist and assess student learning.
I am passionate not only about the subjects and skills that I teach, but also ensuring that students achieve their own learning goals. I recognize that differences among students in their personal experiences, motivations, and learning styles can affect their goals and achievements in class, so I strive to integrate multiple teaching approaches to learning, by combining dynamic lectures with in-class discussions and exercises. I encourage the use of online discussion boards in order to provide a useful forum outside of class for students to ask questions (anonymously if preferred), practice peer teaching, and discuss course concepts. I also regularly incorporate guest teachers in my courses to provide students with diverse perspectives and teaching styles.
My teaching is an ongoing endeavour to develop the best techniques to improve student learning, so I evaluate learning using both summative and formative assessments. For example, I have developed materials to assist students in becoming familiar with insect identifications for the course, Insect Diversity and Evolution. One of the goals of this course is to familiarize students with insect diversity to the family level. Identification of animals in the field requires students to synthesize a great deal of information, such as knowledge about the characteristics of the animal, its distribution, and the common habitats where the animal is usually found. Since this can often be challenging for students, I developed several types of materials to help students assess their own learning of this information. I developed flashcards for 100 insect families, as well as photo identification quizzes for those families, which you can download below. The flashcards work best when printed out, so that they can be shuffled between use to prevent memorization of the order of cards rather than the relevant information. I also recommend using the flashcards with a friend for the best results.
I believe that learning is a process that requires clear expectations for students, context for all work performed, and the opportunity for reflection and revision. Explicitly outlining the learning objectives, the benefits of the exercise, and the standards of assessment, helps to ensure that students know what to expect from each assignment and to feel like they have all the tools to succeed. I consciously address each of these points in my courses. I design guidelines and grading rubrics specifically for each assignment that I develop. You can download a sample rubric below, from an introductory course on Evolution that I developed (find more information on this course on the Course Design and Planning page).
Emphasizing the process of learning and having students reflect on how they improved over the course of an assignment can help students to realize the value of learning from their errors. For example, I design writing assignments in stages, so that students are familiar with completing outlines, reviewing drafts with their peers, and revising their work before submission. Making outlines and drafts worth a small portion of the final grade, simply for handing it in, motivates students to complete these early stages, without putting too much emphasis on perfecting the content on the first attempt. Providing comments on early stages of assignments can help students to learn from their mistakes and rectify them in future stages of the assignment. I strive to provide feedback and comments on all student work and I am available to assist students during assigned office hours or by appointment. Generally, I communicate with students in person or via email, although I ensure that students know to allow 24 hours for a response to their email and that I do not respond to email after 8pm. I treat all of my student communications as professional interactions and I expect to be granted the same respect by students.
I have also used peer-review as a technique to encourage reflection on assignments. These small group peer-teaching activities increase collaborative efforts and stimulate engagement in my classes. After reviewing classmates’ work, I ask students to assess their own strengths and weaknesses by reflecting on their work and the feedback they received from their peers. Reflecting on both the peer- and self-assessments allows students to use these reflections to improve their own learning process. I model this technique for students through mid-term evaluations that allow me to evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching (find out more about how I evaluate my teaching on the Evaluating Effective Teaching page) and modify my teaching approach accordingly.