Series Introduction: What Good are Informal Assessments?

IIE conference presentations Recent reports - including this one in the Wisconsin State Journal - suggest that the presence of large lecture courses on campuses like UW-Madison has not only grown in recent years, but is likely to increase given that a college degree has become a necessary prerequisite for a wide variety of careers. The logic makes sense, but for instructors, lectures pose certain difficulties. How to assess students well in courses where it is nearly impossible to know each of them personally? How to keep students engaged in learning throughout the lectures instead of cramming all of the facts into their exam study? Even in smaller classes, instructors often rely on lectures. How can informal assessment strategies help faculty make their classes more "active" and help faculty know whether their students understand what they are teaching?

This semester, Teaching and Learning Insights will examine several informal assessment techniques - formative assessments (like minute papers) that are designed to provide feedback on students' progress, rather than traditional summative assessments (like exams) that evaluate students' knowledge. We will learn about the different informal assessments that you might see in larger COE lectures and present one or two techniques per month, along with resources for their use and development.

Informal Assessment Series Articles


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For more information about the ideas in this series:

1) Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This general reference on classroom assessment offers a broad perspective on assessment, from definitions of various types of assessment to ideas for planning and analyzing a new assessment in the classroom. The book also includes twelve case study illustrations of teachers' real-life assessment projects. "It's a great book to flip through whenever I need new ideas," says Trina McMahon, "I definitely recommend it."

2) The Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG), from the The National Institute for Science Education's (NISE) College Level One (CL-1) Team.

The Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide aims to create a thorough set of articles about assessment theory and guides to assessment techniques specifically designed for instructors in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The FLAG includes everything from basic information about what assessment is to resources for further reading to specific plans that are appropriate for different disciplines, course formats, and learning goals.