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Forum Promotes Learning Assessment Best Practices

Linzer: Proper assessment a key element in providing a quality education

  • Forum promotes dialogue on learning assessment at variety of University levels
  • Learning outcomes one of the highest profile issues in higher education
  • Innovative use of technology, social media to assess learning stressed

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Providing a first-rate learning experience is one of Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer’s top priorities, and assessing how successfully students learn and how effectively we teach are key to that goal.

Held Nov. 18 at Norris University Center, the third annual Learning, Teaching and Assessment Forum gathered faculty, graduate instructors and staff from across the University to share and highlight teaching and assessment innovations, strategies, practices and outcomes.

The concept of assessment has come a long way over the last decade, Linzer said in his opening remarks. “At one time, many thought of assessment as giving an exam at the end of a certain number of weeks and seeing whether a student got an A, B or C. It is exciting to see how over the past 10 years, we have had significant change in how people re-conceptualize learning outcomes.”

The event, sponsored by the Office of the Provost in collaboration with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching and the University Assessment/Accreditation Council, also was intended to promote dialogue about the assessment of student learning at the course, department/program and school levels, and its value for improving learning and teaching.

The forum included 12 interactive sessions and 15 poster presentations on a wide range of topics including:

  • Student learning assessment through social media and other technologies
  • Assessing key skills (critical thinking, core competencies and research self-efficacy)
  • Assessing learning through student portfolios
  • Using student feedback to assess learning
  • Assessing learning across a division

Provost Linzer also encouraged attendees to use the Forum as an opportunity to reflect on the intersection of learning assessment and other key issues currently being discussed in higher education. “There is a tremendous amount of contested turf in educational systems [today]. In what we teach, how we teach, how we engage students,” Linzer noted.

“I hope today is also an opportunity to dig into some of these very difficult topics of how do we help each other learn about how to approach these matters … to make the learning experience for students more holistic, more representative of their entire student experience, [and] much more rewarding and satisfying.”

New to the Forum this year was a lunchtime panel featuring faculty from across the University. Nick Davis, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies and English; Elizabeth Gerber, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Penny Hirsch, professor of instruction and associate director of the Cook Family Writing Program; and Harvey Young, associate professor of theatre, all shared experiences with assessing learning in their particular disciplines. The panel was moderated by Candy Lee, clinical professor of journalism.

This Forum had the highest attendance in the event’s history. Among the approximate 170 attendees, Northwestern’s 12 schools and three campuses were represented. A number of visiting scholars also participated.

“It points to the collective effort it takes to build a culture of assessment at the University,” remarked Jake Julia, associate provost for academic initiatives and associate vice president for change management, at the conclusion of the program. “When you look at the range of assessment, teaching and learning activities that were represented here today … having this collective effort, people working together and talking about these issues … using results to improve the teaching and learning process here is something that we should all be proud of.”

Full List of Forum Sessions

  • The Loft: Designing a Crowd-feedback System for Formative Feedback on Complex Problem Solving Learning
  • Assessing Student Engagement and Learning on the Yellowdig Interactive Platform
  • Social Distance and Anonymity to Promote Quality Peer Feedback in Higher Education
  • A Competency-Based Model for Enhancing Academic Knowledge
  • A Comprehensive Approach to the Assessment of Student Learning Beyond the Classroom
  • Do-Review-Redo: A Critique-Based Alternative to Homework, Exams and Grades
  • Portfolio Assessment of Behavioral Competencies: Lessons Drawn from the Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Assessing the Critical Thinking of Undergraduates in a Humanities-Based Large Lecture Context
  • Transition Programs: Effectiveness of the Northwestern Bridge Program (Part I) and A Research Preparatory Program for First Year College Students: Effects on Science Self-Efficacy and Persistence in STEM (Part II)
  • Student Presentations: Assessing Student-Generated Content and Peer-Led Feedback
  • Full Partners in the Learning Process: Assessing Student Learning Through the Medical Leave and Reinstatement Process When Mental Health Concerns Interfere with Academic Performance
  • Nebula Discussions: Visualizing Online Discussion Boards as Network Graphs to Improve Student Interaction and Learning

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