“What Were You Thinking of When You Decided on That Rating?”

Most student rating instruments include a question related to the feedback provided by the instructor. It may ask whether it was constructive, actionable, delivered in a timely manner, or some combination of these characteristics. Most teachers are conscientious about giving students feedback. Because they devote so much time and effort to providing it, they are often disappointed and frustrated when students don’t rate the quality of the feedback very positively.

That’s what was happening in the faculties of arts and social sciences and of law at the University of New South Wales. The question on their student rating form asked students whether they were given helpful feedback on how they were doing in the course. “Members of the staff [faculty] whose courses have been rated lower on feedback than on other factors have been puzzled as to just what it was that they would have to do in order to score really well on the feedback question.” (p. 50)

Article author Shirley V.  Scott conducted a series of focus group conversations with students in these two programs. Her approach was direct. She gave students a copy of the question from the student rating form, asked them to think of a course they were enrolled in now and a course they had already completed, and rate both on the feedback question. Then she asked them to reflect and write about what aspects of those courses shaped their answer to the feedback question. “What were you thinking of when you decided how to rate that course?” (p. 51)

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group exams

Group Exams and Quizzes: Design Options to Consider

Although still not at all that widely used, there’s long-standing interest in letting students work together on quizzes or exams. Upon first hearing about the approach, teachers’ initial response is almost always negative. Here are the most common objections.

  • Grades are measures of individual mastery of material. With a group exam or quiz, some students may get a better grade than they’ve earned. Group grades do not measure individual learning.
  • A group can settle on wrong answers and thereby lower the score of the single bright student in the group who knows the right answer.
  • Group exams and quizzes make it too easy for students. They don’t have to think for themselves but can rely on others in the group to do the thinking for them.
  • It’s cheating. Students are getting answers they don’t know from other students. They’re consulting another source rather than putting in the work and developing their own knowledge.
  • Certifying exams (various professional exams such as those in nursing, accounting, the MCAT and GRE, for example) are not group exams. Group quizzes and exams do not prepare students for these all-important assessments.

On the other hand, those who do allow group collaboration on exams and quizzes may respond to the objections with a corresponding set of set of advantages associated with their use.

  • Group exams and quizzes reduce test anxiety. Pretty much across the board, students report that anticipating and participating in group exams and quizzes makes them feel less anxious. And for students with exam anxiety, that can be a significant benefit.
  • Collaborative quizzes and exams show students that they can learn from each other. Many students arrive in courses believing the only person they can learn from is the teacher. But as they talk about test questions, share answer justifications, discuss what content the answer requires, they get to experience what it’s like to learn from peers.
  • Group quizzes and exams provide immediate feedback. Students don’t have to wait to get the exam back. They get a good indication from those in the group why the answer is or is not correct.
  • Working together on test questions teaches students how to identify credible arguments and sources. Given the opportunity to change answers based on what someone else says directly confronts students with the tough issues of who to believe and when to trust their own judgment.
  • Collaborative quizzes and exams model how problem solving in professional contexts usually occurs. Professionals collaborate, they have access to resources, they can contact experts, they argue options, and evaluate possible answers. Collaborative testing gives students the opportunity to see how and why that results in better decision making.
  • Group quizzes and exams can improve exam scores and sometimes, but not always, content retention. The improvement in scores is an expected outcome of collaboration, but the improvement is also present when students collaborate on exam questions and then answer questions that deal with the same content on a subsequent exam taken individually. Effects of collaboration on retention are mixed. See the following references listed at the end of this article for examples: Cortright, Collins, Rodenbaugh and DiCarlo, (2002), Gilley and Clarkson (2014), Leight, Sunders, Calkins and Withers (2012), Lust and Conklin (2003) and Woody, Woody and Bromley (2008).

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students in flipped classroom

Four Strategies for Effective Assessment in a Flipped Learning Environment

Flipped learning environments offer unique opportunities for student learning as well as some unique challenges. By moving direct instruction from the class group space to the individual students’ learning spaces, time and space are freed up for the class as a learning community to explore the most difficult concepts of the course. Likewise, because students are individually responsible for learning the basics of new material, they gain regular experience with employing self-regulated learning strategies they would not have in an “unflipped” environment.

But because initial engagement with new material is done independently as a preparation for class time, rather than as its focus, many things could go wrong. If students do the assigned pre-class work but don’t acquire enough fluency with the basics—or if they simply don’t do it at all—then the in-class experience could be somewhere between lethargic and disastrous. How can an instructor in a flipped learning environment avoid this and instead have consistently engaging and productive learning experiences for students in both the individual and group spaces?