Saturday, April 13, 2013

Graduate Teaching Community Spring 2013 Workshop Series on Out-of-Class Assessments

Hey GTCers!

To those of you who are joining us for the first time this quarter: welcome! And a warm welcome back to all our returning members as well.

During our first meeting this past Thursday, we discussed both the main ideas of this quarter’s theme, “Out-of Class Assessment,” as well as some of the topics we think would be fruitful areas to further explore as we move through the spring.

Some of the first questions we addressed were the most obvious: What is out-of-class assesment? What are some of the things we need to consider when constructing or grading these kinds of assignments?

To help us explore this topic, we looked at a book entitled Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. This text, written by Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson, explores the absolute basic elements instructors must master in order to craft the most productive course assignments.

The authors cited a 1993 report by George Kuh on the effectiveness of out-of-class learning in the university setting which summarizes the research on the contributions of out-of-class experiences to valued outcomes of postsecondary education, including:

(a) cognitive complexity (e.g., critical thinking, intellectual flexibility, reflective judgment);
(b) knowledge acquisition and application;
(c) humanitarianism (e.g., interest in the welfare of others);
(d) interpersonal and intrapersonal competence (e.g., self-confidence, identity, ability to relate to others); and
(e) practical competence (e.g., decision making, vocational preparation)

Out-of-class learning, which we (as teachers) structure through assignments, relates to the larger and more complex whole of grading. Grading is a content-dependent process that serves multiple roles:

Evaluation. The grading process should produce a valid, fair, and trust-worthy judgment about the quality of each student’s work

Communication. The grade itself is a communication to the student, as well as to employers, graduate schools ,and others. The grading process also spurs communication between faculty and students, among faculty colleagues, and between institutions and their constituents.

Motivation. Grading affects how students study, what they focus on, how much time they spend, and how involved they become in the course. Thus, it is a powerful part of the motivational structure of the course.

Organization. A grade on a test or assignment helps to mark transitions, bring closure, and focus effort for both students nad teachers.

Faculty and student reflection. The grading process can yield rich information about what students are learning collectively and can serve as the first step in systematic assessment and information-driven teaching.

Support for larger projects. Among the thousands of research grants available for use, there is a significant number whose focus includes a pedagogical aspect. Questions regarding a professor’s ability to relate his/her research to pedagogical concerns can be answered with greater authority when strong data on student performance in his/her classroom can be provided.

Once we’d determined the many considerations and consequences that arise from all form of assessment, we then started brainstorming some questions related to grading and out-of-class work:

How can I construct good assignments?

How can I foster healthy motivation around grades? How should I respond to the student who asks, ‘What do I need to do to get an ‘A’ [or a ‘C’]?’

How can I establish criteria and standards for student work? Should effort and improvement count? Should I grade on the curve? How should I handle grammar and punctuation? How can I fairly grade students who enter with a wide range of skills and preparation?

How can I guide students’ learning process in the most effective way?

How can I communicate effectively with students about their grades? Which kinds of comments and feedback are most useful? How can I help my students without doing their work for them?

How can I analyze the factors that are influencing learning outside the classroom? How might their environment impact their interaction with the work I assign?

What are the principles of good practice in managing the grading process? How can I handle the workload and make grading time-efficient?

How can what I learn through the grading process help me improve my teaching?

How can we use students’ out-of-classroom work to evaluate learning in an entire degree program or in general education?

How do we assess the highest kinds of learning, such as originality, global perspective, or ethical decision making? Will assessment force us to ‘dumb down’ what we teach?

Do assignments (and/or their subsequent assessment) have to be ‘objective’?

By the time we’d finished our brainstorming session, our meeting time had come to a close. But armed with a litany of topics to explore, as well as a list of potential guest speakers, we felt very excited about the topic at hand!

We have an exciting quarter ahead of us, and we greatly look forward to all of the insights and explorations yet to come. Keep your eyes peeled - we’ll be sending out more information on each week’s workshop topic as it takes shape. As always, thank you for your interest in the GTC - we hope to see you there!

All the best,

Sarah and Donnelly
2012-2013 GTC Coordinators

Contact Information:
Sarah Messbauer:
Donnelly West:

For more information on the theme for this quarter’s workshop series, check out the following:

Astin, A.W. (1993). What matters in college? four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

An economic case for high school reform (Editorial). (2007, November 1). Minneapolis Star Tribune. Available:

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards … and how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29.

Guskey, T. R., & Bailey, J. M. (2001). Developing grading and reporting systems for student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Khu, G. D. (1993). In their own words: What students learn outside the class. American Educational Research Journal, 30, 277-304.

Khu, G. D., Douglas, K. B., Lund, J. P., & Ramin-Gyurnek, J. (1994). Student learning outside the classroom: Transcending artificial boundaries. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 8, 1-160.

Liu, S., & Parmley, K. (2005). An analysis of student out-of-class experiences and self-reported general-education learning outcomes. New Paltz, NY: SUNY New Paltz, Office of Institutional Research.

Marzano, R. J. (2000). Transforming classroom grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

O'Connor, K. (2007). A repair kit for grading: 15 fixes for broken grades. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

Pace, R. C. (1990). The undergraduate: A Report of their activities and process in college in the 1980s. Los Angels, CA: University of California, Center for the Study of Evaluation.

Price, L. (1993). Characteristics of early student dropouts at allegany community college and recommendations for early intervention. Cumberland, MD: Allegany Community Coll.

Reeves, D. B. (2004). The case against zero. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4), 324–325.

Reeves, D. B. (2006). Leading to change: Preventing 1,000 failures. Educational Leadership, 64(3), 88–89.

Terenzini, P. T., & Spring, L. (1995). Influences affecting the development of students’ critical thinking skills. Research in Higher Education, 36, 23-40.

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